With nearly 60,000 followers on their Facebook page, Richmond mom Kathy Marliss and Vancouver Island counterpart Andrea Rosszman know their service is appreciated.
The two women have been running the BC School COVID Tracker website and Facebook page for nearly 18 months, and their sites have become the go-to source for B.C. residents who want the latest information on exposure events throughout the province.
“I am doing this because I feel that knowledge is power and to be able to make informed decisions to keep your family safe is of the utmost importance,” said Marliss, who estimates she spends 12 hours a day on the website and Facebook page. “We don’t get that information readily, or at all, from our government officials, so we are flying blind without the data and the communications we are getting. I am so grateful to Andrea, who helps me so much with this. If I didn’t have that support, nobody could be able to handle this (alone).”
Marliss said there is a lot that goes into every data entry before it gets posted.
“It’s not so cut and dry as to say ‘here’s a letter, get it posted.’ There’s a lot of questions and conversations back and forth that need to happen to make sure that we get the information validated appropriately and get all the information we possibly can.”
Marliss said while she checks the BC Centre for Disease Control site daily, the majority of her information is coming directly from the parents, teachers and support staff who receive letters from their respective health authorities about exposures.
“People come to us. It has been very easy to create that trust piece - I even have school administrators writing us and giving us information… so even they want to share with the community,” she said. “A lot of administrators are expressing frustration about that wall that has been built, that they can’t protect their own community. But the information we share has all been validated. We do not share any anecdotal cases. We do get some third-party information, but we say to those sources that we must hear directly from the families, with documented proof. All the entries on the database come from people who either have a letter from the school or public health, or they have tested positive themselves, and they share those positive test results with us, as well as the communication they have had with public health regarding what their exposure dates would have been. So all that information has been proven. It is not hearsay.”
The website has posted 12,241 exposure announcements dating back to Sept. 1, 2020, and more than one-third of those - nearly 4,700 - have been in the past four months.
Marliss said while those numbers are staggering, they are not surprising.
“No, they sadly don’t (surprise us),” she said. “We knew going in that kids not being eligible for the vaccine until very recently was going to cause a spike in schools. We knew transmission in schools was happening, despite the government using a very different narrative, that kids don’t get COVID, that kids don’t transmit COVID - we saw it happening in the last school year. We knew that wasn’t going to change this year.
“Now that the teachers were fully protected, with their two doses, we knew we were going to hear mostly about kids being sick, rather than adults being sick, and that’s what happened.”
Marliss said she has had pushback from government authorities, but is determined to continue to provide the information to the community at large.
“We have over 60,000 people who are following our page, and that’s a clear indication of what people want and need,” she said. “They need information, and if they (government) are not going to provide it… if they aren’t going to put families first, that’s what I find so frustrating. They (government) know my information is valid, and they know it’s all there, but they will try to (discredit us).
“Bonnie Henry has said in her pressers… ‘you need to leave this to an authoritative source’ but I think we have proven that we are pretty authoritative. We stand by our information. They can discredit all they want - they don’t want the info out there, but that’s just too bad because families, British Columbians, people in the school system, we are strong, we support each other, we are keeping each other safe, and we just wish the people in the higher up positions would care as much as we do.”
When contacted by Black Press on Dec. 27, the Ministry of Health would not discuss the BC School COVID Tracker website in particular, but encouraged people to access the government websites.
A spokesperson for the ministry claimed the government is providing all the necessary information.
“B.C. and all regional health authorities provide regular information on exposures in schools, both publicly and through direct communication to the school community,” the ministry responded.
The ministry also stated the provincial health officer provided instructions to all regional health authorities to post potential exposure events on their websites “if a person (staff or student) attended school while infectious, and there is increased risk of COVID-19 to the groups they were a part of.”