Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor news on February 1, 2021.

If you have kids, you’ve likely been through a case or two of ‘are we there yet?’ and like all parents who are presented with the question, you probably answered ‘almost there…’ knowing that it’ll be a while yet.

Somehow it feels that way with the ongoing pandemic. Last week alone we saw multiple cases show up in our schools and we have the hospital outbreak. As of Sunday, there were 28 patients and 51 staff who tested positive at RIH (update: there are now 91 people affected, staff and patients.)

Sahali Secondary sent out multiple notices of COVID-19 exposure (they have had the most cases so far.) Cases popped up in other schools too, including elementary schools. In total, eight Kamloops schools have had potential exposures. We are told of potential exposures but not about confirmed cases, which there have been a few. Such secrecy has no place in a pandemic.

We don’t know for sure whether it’s students or adults (staff/teachers) who tested positive, but we kind of do because word gets out. There are students who tested positive and are isolating at home, their families in quarantine.

So much for that perceived protective shield surrounding our children. And in the same breath, unfortunately – so much for the peace of mind of teachers and staff. Yes, kids can and do spread the virus, and sometimes they themselves develop symptoms. And yet, we send our kids to school and staff and teachers show up for work, hoping they won’t contract the virus. Some do unfortunately, and there are repeated calls to reduce class sizes, to have transparency regarding COVID cases, and to have teachers vaccinated sooner.

Meanwhile, here’s an easy one: a classroom mandatory mask policy. Not having one is bewildering and irresponsible. While not entirely efficient, masks do decrease the risk of transmission. The explanation, according to our local school district, is that schools are ‘controlled environments, and not public spaces.’

Philosophical debates notwithstanding, I dare say schools are public spaces. Kids and staff encounter many other people in the community, some more than others.

Another point in need of updating states that ‘Provincial health data confirms that increasing mask use in schools is not necessary because COVID-19 is primarily transmitted in home-like settings and in unstructured community settings.’ Well, we now know that the virus does spread in schools.

Back in October, a private school in Kelowna reported their first case of COVID-19, which became 11 in no time. As a result, the school closed for 14 days. Some rolled their eyes, others applauded.

Why don’t we apply the same, more so when we see school cases rising, and when the community is also dealing with a hospital outbreak, and when we are being warned of the new variants making their way into our communities?

Why don’t we at least see a mandatory mask policy being set in place to protect teachers and students and why do we continue to assume that just by isolating the positive cases and their immediate contacts we can control the spread when that’s evidently not working as planned.

If we’ve learned one thing about this virus is that it travels, faster and father than we realize. It sneaks into public places, schools included.

As for the new variants, that’s another level altogether. Viruses mutate, and they do it particularly well in places where the spread has not been dealt with (countries such as Brazil, South Africa, the U.S. and the U.K.).

The mitigation measures the province has applied so far have worked somewhat, but no matter how positive you want to be, here’s the sober reality: we’re not doing well. We have sailed out of the first wave straight into the second and now we’re being warned of the third.

We’re being asked to ‘double-down and do more’ by the provincial health authority. Those who have been reducing their bubble size to nil and observing all measures are asking what more they could do? The new travel restrictions announced by the federal government are a step in the right direction, aiming to discourage traveling, but is that enough?

We hear success stories from countries like New Zealand, Taiwan and Australia. They went all the way with full lockdowns and aimed for eradication rather than risk mitigation. New cases are treated with urgency and, most importantly, full transparency.

That gives us reason to sigh realizing we’re not out of danger zone, but it also gives us reason to hope that things could get better with proper, stricter measures in place.

Harsh they may be but imagine the freedom we’d be able to enjoy after a few weeks, compared to what now has been a year of suppressive measures that have not seen case numbers go down. Imagine getting back to a level of normalcy, our economy included, rather than living with the spectrum of yet another pandemic wave and more community outbreaks.

As far as schools are concerned, what about temporary closures in schools that have had exposure cases pop up? What about more aggressive testing when the spread is unexpectedly high?

What about full transparency by the regional health authority regarding the exact number of cases and where they occur in our community?

Let’s not wait until it gets worse, because we know it can. But it can also get better. We can make it happen.