Students from another school board a bus outside Thorncliffe Park Public School in Toronto on Friday December 4, 2020. Toronto Public Health closed the school due to a COVID19 outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Students from another school board a bus outside Thorncliffe Park Public School in Toronto on Friday December 4, 2020. Toronto Public Health closed the school due to a COVID19 outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Experts call for community sacrifices to ensure COVID-19 safety in schools

Kids in British Columbia returned to public school after a two-week winter break last week

Schools shuttered by fears of a post-holiday pandemic surge reopen in many parts of the country Monday, but experts say keeping kids safe will depend on stepped-up control measures beyond the learning environment.

Thousands of students in Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are among those set to reunite after an extended break, depending on their region and age group.

In some regions, the return to class coincides with tighter precautions both in and out of the classroom.

Grade 1 and 2 students in Quebec will join older elementary students in having to wear masks on school buses and in common areas, while those in Grades 5 and 6 will have to wear masks in class, too.

The biggest news in Quebec has been the introduction of Canada’s first COVID-19 curfew, which prevents most residents from leaving home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.

It’s a significant clampdown that should help shield schools from rising community rates that have pushed cases, hospitalizations and deaths to worrisome highs, observers say.

“We have to start talking about other sacrifices that we as communities are willing to make if we want our children to return to school,” says Ashleigh Tuite, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“I don’t love the idea of curfews or restricting movement but again, those are the sorts of measures that I think as adults we should be willing to take on if that means that will help reduce community transmission.”

Ontario was set to reopen elementary schools in the southern half of the province on Monday, but delayed that plan by two weeks due to staggering case counts and a worrisome rise in positivity rates among children.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said last week the positivity rate among tested children approached 20 per cent in early January for 12-13 year-olds, up sharply from 5 per cent in late November and early December.

A survey of provincial COVID-19 test results broken down by age also revealed lesser but still significant spikes for other age groups, including a jump to 16 per cent from 5 per cent for 4 to 11-year-olds, and a rise to 14 per cent from 6 per cent for 14 to 17-year-olds.

That’s in tandem with soaring infections that set a daily record of more than 4,200 reported cases Friday, although that included a backlog of about 450 cases.

Ontario has suggested further restrictions are on the way, and expressed a vague desire to introduce more school-based measures aimed at suppressing transmission rates, but no details have been released.

Coming up with the right balance of community-based and school-based restrictions is an imprecise science, says University of Manitoba virologist Jason Kindrachuk, but he says any steps to rein in broader infections help prevent the chance of outbreaks in class.

“We probably shouldn’t be talking about school closures if we’re not also talking about closures of all non-essential businesses and as well, offices,” Kindrachuk says from Saskatoon, where he’s working with the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre.

READ MORE: BCTF blasts ‘one size fits all’ school COVID plan, calls for transparency from Henry, Dix

But also key is better data to assess just how susceptible school children really are, he said, repeating calls for asymptomatic testing: “We don’t fully understand still to this day what transmission looks like in schools.”

Provincial lockdown measures have been extended in Alberta and Manitoba, while Saskatchewan has said it plans to review the status of its Christmas limits on gatherings and retail capacity.

Kids in British Columbia returned to public school after a two-week winter break last week, but there’s pressure there, too, to ramp up protections including mask mandates and physical distancing.

Teachers in the Fraser Health region are especially concerned about “schools where health and safety standards are inadequate, inconsistent, or unsafe,” the B.C. Teachers’ Federation said Friday in a release.

The federation is calling on provincial authorities to reduce density in schools, improve ventilation, make masks mandatory in all indoor spaces and ensure educators and school staff “are appropriately prioritized” for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Kindrachuk says the arrival of a more infectious COVID-19 variant from the U.K. further raises the stakes for infection control.

“Things don’t go from one day being kind of fine to all of a sudden being bad the next day,” he said. “There’s a slow escalation and then everything starts to hit that exponential phase where you’re not going up linearly, now you’re actually going up very, very precipitously.”

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

CoronavirusEducationSchools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The newly built Parkland Regional Library Services. (Photo Submitted)
Parkland Regional Library system moves into new offices in Lacombe

“Someone with a Parkland Library card can borrow from 350 libraries in Alberta,” Ron Sheppard

boating stock metro
New owners of public boat launch on Sylvan Lake plans opening for May 2021

The Launch at Sylvan Lake is located at 5220 Lakeshore Dr.

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19.  (File photo)
750 new COVID-19 cases identified in Alberta Sunday

Central zone currently has 1,182 active cases of the virus

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine deliveres to Canada are being delayed because of complications at their European distribution facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Delays of Pfizer vaccine delivery to impact Alberta’s vaccination plans

Alberta has administered 74,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Lacombe is looking at its options for reclaiming sewage lagoons that are no longer needed. Vesta Energy Ltd. has signed a deal to use three lagoons to store water for fracking.
Map from City of Lacombe
Energy company to use former Lacombe sewage lagoons to store water for fracking

Vesta Energy Ltd. will pay Lacombe more than $100,000 a year in 20-year deal

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Monday that11 more people had died from COVID-19, bringing the province’s death toll to 1,447. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Eleven more Albertans die from COVID-19

There were 739 people in hospital, 120 in ICU on Monday

Indigenous people gather for a ceremony for Cindy Gladue held at the courthouse in Edmonton, Alta, on Wednesday, January 13, 2021. Bradley Barton, a 52-year-old long-haul truck driver from Ontario on trial for manslaughter, is accused of killing Gladue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
People stand in support of mother as new trial gets underway in death of Cindy Gladue

Bradley Barton, a long-haul truck driver from Ontario, will now be tried for manslaughter in the 2011 death

(Photo submitted)
RCMP say ice climber seriously injured after reportedly falling 12 metres near Abraham Lake

Police say man’s injuries were serious but not life-threatening

U.S. military units march in front of the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 in Washington, as they rehearse for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, which will be held at the Capitol on Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden aims for unifying speech at daunting moment for U.S.

President Donald Trump won’t be there to hear it

Facebook/ The Open Door 24/7 Integrated Response Hub- Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin residents show support for 24/7 Integrated Response Hub

Wetaskiwin residents and City Council members showed support for Hub with positive signs.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

Most Read