Parents and teens on the North Shore are being warned to stop socializing in contravention of public health orders after a social get-together involving students from multiple schools last weekend has led to a number of new COVID cases among teenagers and their families.
“So far two secondary schools have been impacted and several households in our community are now under self-isolation,” stated a letter that went out to parents at both Handsworth and Argyle Secondary schools in North Vancouver Thursday evening.
At Handsworth, that’s led to three school cases and exposure warnings for two Grade 10 classes on Feb. 8 and one Grade 9 class on Feb. 8, 9 and 10. At Argyle three positive cases have led to new exposure warnings in four Grade 10 classes on Feb. 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10.
The latest notice comes at a time when COVID cases among school-aged children on the North Shore have resulted in numerous local school exposure warnings and cases in North and West Vancouver in the general population have also been increasing.
“Across the North Shore, we have seen an increase in the number of COVID-19 exposures in schools, following the trend in community transmission,” wrote North Vancouver schools superintendent Mark Pearmain in a letter to families on Friday.
Pearmain acknowledged that families are all tired and frustrated by the stress of living under the pandemic. But he added, “I am requesting that we all collectively recommit to being cautious, vigilant and thoughtful of how our actions outside our households impact others.”
Coralynn Gehl, who runs a Facebook page where North Shore families share information about COVID cases and exposures, said she sees a definite divide between the local rule followers and others who are looking for loopholes.
“There are people who are following rules to the letter and there are people who are being a bit more flexible,” she said.
“I think people feel that when they send their kids outside [to meet at the beach or for a walk] the risk is low,” she said. But she added, “I think it’s really easy for that to turn into a gathering at someone’s house.”
Gehl said she understands why strict compliance with the rules is challenging for families.
“I know teenagers are suffering,” she said. “I don't know what the answer is. I don’t know how you balance your kid’s mental health with provincial health orders.”
In other cases, the flouting of the rules seems more deliberate, she said, adding she’s aware of birthday parties and playdates that are still being organized. “It’s unfortunate and it’s unfair to the kids who have been told they can’t have a birthday party,” she said. “It sucks when you tell your kid you can’t have a birthday party and she gets a invitation from someone else.”
A number of parents on the Facebook site were less forgiving of parents who allow their kids to ignore provincial rules. One mother recalled hearing teens on a bus in West Vancouver recently discussing plans for a big party. Another described how a large number of families with teens in school gathered for a recent beach fire.
On Friday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province's medical health officer, said she knows pandemic restrictions have been hard on young people.
“And it's hard for them to know how to react and how to say no to things. So this is a time where it is important. And it’s OK for you to say no to going out with your friends right now. It's not OK to go in a group and go up and spend the weekend in Whistler, it's not OK to go out and party with your group right now. Because that's putting your family and your community at risk.”
Under current provincial health orders, families have been advised to stay local and avoid non-essential travel over the Family Day long weekend. They’ve also been ordered to avoid social gatherings with anyone outside of their household.