Laurie Wilkie is one of the parents who have been impacted by the COVID-19 exposure at Rosemont Elementary. Her son, Edward, is one of the students who have tested positive. Photo: Tyler Harper

Laurie Wilkie is one of the parents who have been impacted by the COVID-19 exposure at Rosemont Elementary. Her son, Edward, is one of the students who have tested positive. Photo: Tyler Harper

At Nelson’s Rosemont Elementary, parents grapple with rumours and COVID-19

A lack of information from Interior Health has meant families are left relying on each other

The virus introduced itself to Leslee Gehrmann as a whisper.

Rumours were circulating among parents that COVID-19 had entered Nelson’s Rosemont Elementary when Gehrmann opted to pull her kids from class.

She thought she was being proactive, but only days later her daughter started showing symptoms. Four of the family’s five members soon tested positive for the virus.

Gehrmann’s six-year-old daughter and her husband only experienced mild symptoms, while their 14-year-old son somehow tested negative.

But her eight-year-old daughter developed a sinus infection. Gehrmann, meanwhile, suffered from fevers, a high heart rate, excessive sweating, muscle cramps in her hands and feet, and intense headaches.

“I felt like I fell down the stairs or got hit by a car,” she said.

The Gehrmanns are now among Rosemont families and residents who have been forced to share information about an outbreak few understand.

A COVID-19 exposure occurred at the school of 115 students on April 6 to 9, then again on the 12th and 13th. On April 13, School District 8 notified families that one class had been told to isolate until April 26.

No other information was provided. The district and Interior Health cite privacy rules when asked how the exposure began, or how many students and staff have been infected.

Cases keep rising meanwhile in the Nelson local health area, which had 23 new reported cases between April 4 to 17, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Rosemont Elementary remains open, as do Kaslo’s J.V. Humphries and Brent Kennedy Elementary at the Junction after exposures that followed at those schools.

That has left parents to suss out for themselves who has COVID-19, how serious the exposure is and whether their children should return to class.

Laurie Wilkie has relied on an informal Facebook group set up by parents to share information after her seven-year-old son Edward tested positive.

Edward was part of the Rosemont Elementary class sent into isolation. He appeared fine until Wilkie decided to have him tested on April 19 before sending Edward and his sister to a care provider so she could return to work.

Edward was initially asymptomatic until last week when he felt ill. Wilkie, a nurse at Kootenay Lake Hospital, has had to rely on what neighbours, friends and other parents have told her about the virus’s impact.

“A lot of us parents feel that because SD8 can’t tell us anything, which we get to an extent, most of us don’t feel we can make informed choices about what’s best for our kids and our families,” said Wilkie.

On the private Rosemont Elementary Facebook page for families, parents have exchanged what information they have. Wilkie said there’s been no stigma, only support for people who had said the virus is in their homes.

“There’s absolutely no judgement, there’s no pointing fingers.”

Not at each other, that is.

‘I almost feel like a guinea pig’

Interior Health typically alerts residents of a positive test within 24 hours. That’s supposed to be followed by another call from contact tracers who ask for a list of recent exposures and then make further calls if necessary.

Dr. Albert de Villiers, Interior Health’s chief medical health officer, said on an April 22 conference call with reporters that contact tracers are usually reaching out to people within 24 hours of a positive test.

“We are keeping up,” he said. “We are basically keeping that inbox clean on a daily basis but it might take a day or two after we get the result.”

If there is a delay, he said, it’s because people are expecting calls within days of their symptoms onsetting and not of their positive test result.

For this story, the Nelson Star spoke to several families both on and off the record. Every person, some unprompted, cited concerns about Interior Health’s contact tracing program, which parents say isn’t acting fast enough.

Gerhmann said she wasn’t contacted by tracers until six days after her positive test.

“Speaking to Interior Health, everybody’s been super kind but nobody has any answers,” she said. “I almost feel like a guinea pig.”

Lexi Campese has two children at Rosemont Elementary, one of whom was exposed to the virus by a family who she says has since had five positive tests. She said contact tracers didn’t reach out to her family about the exposure until 12 days later.

That kind of delay, she said, results in a community having to rely on each other for direction during the pandemic instead of on health authorities.

“I feel like that lack of information maybe is to not create panic, but I feel like it’s doing the complete opposite,” she said.

Residents who don’t have children at the school are also left out of the loop.

Donna Lockett lives a short distance from Rosemont Elementary, but her son Abraham goes to another school. That meant she wasn’t notified about the initial exposure, nor was she included in the Facebook group set up for the school’s parents, and only learned about the cases from Wilkie.

That’s frustrating for Lockett, whose father died of COVID-19 last year. Both her and Abraham have since tested negative, but they are isolating as the virus works its way through the neighbourhood.

That decision, she said, comes with a cost. Lockett is a single parent, and voluntarily isolating means she can’t work.

“It’s not ideal to have to weigh the financial responsibility with the medical responsibility of the community,” she said. “That feels quite uncomfortable, but that’s what I weigh all the time.”

‘They don’t feel safe’

The class that first went into isolation at Rosemont Elementary was due to return Monday. But just how empty Rosemont has been since April 13, and what it has meant for staff, is a matter of speculation between families.

Rosemont principal Lindsay Mackay declined to comment when contacted by the Nelson Star and instead referred questions to the school district.

When asked how many Rosemont classes had been impacted by the closure, superintendent Christine Perkins said teachers had returned to work Friday and students had been invited back yesterday.

Those responses are in line with provincial orders that school districts defer to health authorities when a COVID-19 case is announced at a school.

Carla Wilson, president of the Nelson and District Teachers’ Association, said any school with a positive case should close until the full exposure is revealed.

She also doesn’t understand why teachers, who are considered essential service by the province, have had to wait for vaccines.

“I wish I could say my teachers felt safe,” said Wilson. “But because they know it’s in their schools and that it’s in their community right now they don’t feel safe.”

Campese also thinks Rosemont should have closed after the first exposure.

She runs a daycare, which has been closed with her own family isolating, and understands how important safe spaces outside the home are to children and parents.

“But if I send them back, am I going to be doing this in two weeks again?”

It’s a question that no one can, or is willing to, answer.

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

1914
It happened this week in 1914

June 6 -12: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers held at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

Supporters — and shoppers — lined up waiting at the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store on 8th Avenue South, waiting for the doors to open on the store's first day of operations since the pandemic forced its closure. (Photo courtesy Kate Fox)
CHCA Thrift Store re-opens in Cranbrook

After a closure of 15 months, due to the pandemic, the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary Thrift Store on 8th Avenue South has once again opened its doors for business.

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read