COLUMN: Cancelling school trips the right thing to do

Surrey School District’s decision to cancel student trips to Italy, France and Japan is a good one. There is absolutely no point in students visiting such places in the midst of a worldwide COVID-19 outbreak – one that is being handled with varying degrees of success in different countries.

Perhaps the school district is a little too willing to let other trips, which are usually planned for spring break, proceed. Nine of 16 trips have already been cancelled, as they were either to those three countries or required a stop there.

There are a lot of challenges in a late cancellation, not the least of which is a significant financial cost, but good health is something no one can put a price on. Student trips can be wonderful learning experiences, but it’s far better to go at a time of fewer health challenges.

Supt. Jordan Tinney said that the remaining trips are being evaluated on a day-by-day basis, as officials monitor information about the virus and the response from health officials in various countries.

There are significant concerns about the virus in all parts of the world. In the U.S., for example, it seems to be cropping up in new locations on a daily basis. As this is written, a cruise ship has been forced to idle 100 miles off the California coast while people on board who are sick are tested. The more than 3,500 people on board are not being allowed to disembark in San Francisco until health officials have a clear idea of what to do next.

In terms of travel, one of the more challenging places to visit right now is Seattle, which is just a few hours’ drive away. As of this writing, 12 people have died of the virus. While many of these were in a care home where there were a number of infections, health officials candidly say they have no idea of how much the virus has spread there.

The necessity of air travel to get to most student trip destinations also adds an element of risk. Virtually all the cases in Canada and the U.S. thus far are at least partially the result of air travel. People travel all over the world in increasing volumes each year, and it is very easy to be in an Asian country one day and at the Vancouver Airport on that same day (thanks to the international date line). This allows diseases to spread easily – particularly when people have no idea they are contagious.

The COVID-19 virus alert may well ease soon. While it is concerning, health officials have generally been fairly proactive. B.C.’s response has been good, but because of the many unknown factors, continued vigilance is very important.

It is also important to keep this outbreak in context. Many more people die of the flu each year than have thus far died of COVID-19. The media (including social media) focus on the new virus because it is a recent phenomenon.

One of the best things that has come out of this is the emphasis on good hygiene, which is always important.

Surrey students who will miss out on a spring break trip will likely grumble a bit, but looking out for their continued good health is of utmost importance. School district and health officials are doing their job properly.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca

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