Citizen group keeps up with contact tracing in Nova Scotia schools
A parent group is taking the lead on contact tracing efforts in Nova Scotia public schools and issuing their own COVID-19 exposure list, after the province and public health abandoned the practice during the Omicron wave.
“Parents everywhere want to know,” said Stacey Rudderham, co-chair of the Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education group.
“They want to know what the exposures are and they want to know if their schools are experiencing any exposures and at what level.”
Classes in Nova Scotia returned to in-person learning on Monday and already, the Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education COVID-19 board is reporting 59 potential exposures.
Rudderham says parents or guardians can log positive Rapid Antigen and PCR tests through its website and it's done anonymously without identifying the case and the infected individual.
“Government basically told us that we’re on our own,” said Rudderham. “So, we’re doing what we have to on our own, to help each other out and eliminating stress or helping people feel like they are in the know.”
Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health says while parent groups are entitled to contact trace on their own, he argues there’s no benefit for schools to have that kind of information.
“Relying on being notified by government or someone else official about being a close contact, whether in schools or elsewhere, gives people a false sense of security,” said Dr. Robert Strang, during Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing.
“We’re seeing many parent groups attempt to contact trace on their own and while I appreciate that people want to help and feel the information is important, there really is no additional benefit in school settings to have that contact tracing,” said Strang.
Strang says COVID-19 is all around us and it’s possible to be exposed anytime we are out and around other people.
That’s one reason the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) is calling for the government and public health to bring contact tracing back as another layer of protection, especially given this recent surge in cases and increased hospitalizations.
“It’s not us we’re worried about, it’s the vulnerable people that we are connected to,” said Paul Wozney, president of NSTU. “We don’t want to spread it to them.”
According to Wozney, there are no clear protocols on how teachers are to handle and communicate COVID-19 exposures, as some teachers have been told by administrators not to communicate cases.
"It’s creating this kind of chaos where everyone is making up their own meaning as they go,” said Wozney.
Both Strang and Premier Tim Houston said parents and teachers can communicate positive cases, adding there is no “gag order” on teachers.
“To be very clear, nobody is restricted from telling anyone they have COVID,” said Houston. “If you have COVID, you can tell whoever you want you have COVID.”
Strang said previous contact tracing work was disruptive to the school system and families and they won’t be enforcing the isolation for close contact, but instead urge people to closely follow public health protocols and limit contacts outside of school and home.
Rudderham says COVID-19 case information is still important for families and they are hearing it from the membership in their 24,000 member Facebook group.
“The information is what mattered to people and to take that away, you’ve left parents feeling a lot more vulnerable than they have in previous waves,” said Rudderham.
Strang said the province's supply of rapid antigen tests are being replenished and they’ll bring back the “Test to Protect” program in schools by offering students and staff two tests per week, regardless of any symptoms.
Public health estimates there are 5,374 active cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia as of Wednesday.
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