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What risk does the Delta variant pose for children in B.C. schools?

Dr. Bonnie Henry and a doctor at BC Children's hospital weigh in.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said the Delta coronavirus variant represents all of the new infections in B.C. children but that very few of them are hospitalized. 

Health officials and doctors say the Delta coronavirus variant represents all of the new infections in B.C. children but that very few of them are hospitalized. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters in a press briefing Tuesday (Aug. 31) that it was crucial that children get back to school this fall semester, adding that contact tracing will be a priority in schools.

Henry emphasized that the pandemic has had a detrimental effect on mental health, particularly for school-aged children and youth. 

"It's going to be a really important and good thing for kids to get back into the classroom next week," she said, admitting that it would also "be a little bit anxiety-provoking, of course."

BC Children’s Hospital Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Laura Sauvé also underscored the importance of getting children and teenagers back in school.

"By far the most significant health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children has been the mental health and educational/developmental effects. Our emergency department has seen many more cases of kids coming in in a mental health crisis than they normally do," she told Vancouver Is Awesome

Part of keeping kids healthy is getting them back into their regular routines, including returning to school, having safe extra-curricular activities, and seeing their friends, explained Sauvé. "It is really critical."

But the rate of vaccination for adults also plays an important part in keeping children aged 12 and under safe, she noted. 

"We know that one of the things we can do to best protect kids under the age of 12 is to get everyone vaccinated. Up until now, the number of cases of COVID-19 in children is reflected by the number of cases in adults," she said. 

"If we continue to follow the layers of protection and make sure that older people are vaccinated...I'm hopeful that we won't see the same levels of increase but we will continue to watch carefully."

"Grades 4 and up must wear masks inside schools."

The proportion of COVID-19 cases for kids aged 19 and under has been relatively stable in the province at about 17 per cent, while hospitalizations have remained at about two per cent throughout the pandemic.

Many of the children who are admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 also had another reason for being in the hospital, notes Sauvé. 

Data from Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine trials in children aged two years and older could be available in the months ahead.  

"Activities that are outside and not crowded are very safe,” said Sauvé. “But in all indoor public spaces across the province masks must be worn by everyone 12 and older to help slow the transmission of COVID-19 as the province prepares for the fall and respiratory illness season. Grades 4 and up must wear masks inside schools. We also encourage children aged two to 11 to wear masks in public settings.”

For more information on children and COVID-19, please see the BC Children's website.