Parents and teachers in four provinces are bracing for students to return to class on Monday as the Omicron-fueled wave of COVID-19 continues to spread and questions remain about how well schools are actually preparing for a large-scale return. ladder.
Students in Ontario and Quebec, Canada’s largest provinces, will resume in-person learning after their governments delayed their return in the face of record high holiday cases.
While public health experts, parents and officials agree that learning in school is best for children, school boards, families and unions say they are preparing to an increase in staff absences due to the virus – with some fearing that not enough has been done to ensure they can continue to operate safely.
In a letter to members over the weekend, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario president Karen Brown said educators across the province expressed a range of emotions. looking forward to returning to the classroom in the midst of this fifth wave of the pandemic, driven by the highly contagious variant of Omicron. of the coronavirus.
Without a doubt, it has been the dedication of the members of #ETFO to their classrooms and the public education system that has supported so many students and their families during these difficult times.
“Some members are enthusiastic and feel safe, others are cautiously optimistic and some are anxious,” it read.
Manitoba and Nova Scotia will also send children back to class on Monday, with Nova Scotia being the only province in the Atlantic region to do so.
Nova Scotia Teachers Union President Paul Wozney questioned schools’ ability to stay open during the week, pointing out that children needed to be sent home early before the Christmas vacation due to staffing levels – and that was when the number of cases was lower than it was. are today.
“The pressure from Omicron hasn’t lessened, it’s gotten worse,” he said.
Rather than sending students back to school on Monday, Wozney suggested the province should have taken a more cautious approach like its neighbors have done until COVID-19 case levels become more manageable.
One problem, he said, is the dwindling list of available substitute teachers, which is even more problematic in rural areas than in the provincial capital of Halifax.
“We don’t have the people to support in-person learning for an extended period of time,” Wozney said. “We made this clear to the [education] department.”
School boards across Ontario have also warned parents to expect possible returns on remote learning as they try to manage both infection and staffing levels in classrooms. class.
To keep schools open, Ontario and Nova Scotia plan to provide students with rapid antigen tests.
The move comes at a time when Ottawa is trying to ensure that the 140 million tests it has promised to send to provinces this month arrive on schedule as it works with 14 different suppliers and battles issues. of supply as demand for testing skyrocketed.
Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government also plans to rely on rapid testing to keep students in school and says it is still working on ventilation improvements in many buildings.
Improving air quality and access to better masks were top of mind concerns parents, educators and doctors wanted governments to address before children returned to class.
In Quebec, for example – where updated guidelines say schools will not need to close in the event of an epidemic but can move online if more than 60% of students self-isolate – some parents have denounced the fact that N95 masks are reserved for “special schools” but not for all.
The search for contracts also remains a problem. In Manitoba, people infected in schools will not be able to rely on authorities to notify their close contacts. Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, told a briefing last week that the virus is simply spreading too quickly.
He also states that the risk of children becoming seriously ill from the Omicron variant is low.
The massive return to in-person learning comes after Health Canada reported that less than 4% of children in the country aged 5 to 11 were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 on Friday, with nearly 50% having received at least one dose.
At the same time, nearly 90% of people 12 and older are fully vaccinated in Canada, as provinces race to get boosters in as many arms as possible to combat the current surge.
What’s happening across Canada
With lab testing capacity deeply stretched and increasingly restricted, experts say the true number of cases is likely much higher than reported. Regional hospitalization data is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will release numbers that separate the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 from those hospitalized for another medical condition who also test positive for COVID. -19.
For more information on what’s happening in your community – including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions – click on the regional coverage below.
In British Columbia, a union that represents frontline workers in the community health, retail, industrial and hospitality sectors, is calling for increased safety measures and bonuses as the number of COVID cases rises. -19 continues to rise in the province.
In the prairies, Saskatchewan surpassed 100,000 confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic on Sunday. In alberta, the provincial government plans to overturn a public health order barring healthcare workers from working in more than one continuing care facility by mid-February, if not sooner.
In Ontario, most long-term care workers have just under two weeks to receive their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but unions and industry groups say it takes longer to reach the government’s target as staff infections reach record levels and workers struggle to access appointments.
In Quebec, hospitalizations in the greater Montreal area are expected to peak in the coming week, according to projections from the province’s public health research institute.
In Atlantic Canada, New Scotland reported Sunday that 68 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, including 10 in intensive care. Another person in Newfoundland and Labrador died of COVID-19 and three other people were hospitalized. New Brunswick saw four more deaths and hospitalizations rose to 115. And Prince Edward IslandDepartment of Health and Wellness asks Public Schools Branch staff to provide support to residents in private care homes in Charlottetown due to a “critical shortage of staff”.
In the North, the municipal services of Nunavut the capital, Iqaluit, which were closed due to an epidemic will reopen on Monday. During this time, yukon says it will introduce new public health measures on Tuesday due to an Omicron surge.
What’s going on in the world
As of Sunday, around 326.6 million cases had been reported worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. The global death toll stands at more than 5.5 million.
In Europe, the French parliament on Sunday approved a law that will exclude unvaccinated people from all restaurants, sports arenas and other places, the central measure of the government’s efforts to protect hospitals amid a record number of infections caused by Omicron .
In Asia, the Chinese city of Xi’an has gradually begun to lift restrictions after more than three weeks of lockdown as authorities sought to eradicate a local outbreak ahead of the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics on February 4.
In the Americas, COVID-19 infections are rising again in American nursing homes due to the Omicron wave, and deaths are also rising, leading to new restrictions on family visits and new pressure to vaccinate and stimulate more residents and of staff members.
In Africa, a shipment of 1.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Rwanda on Saturday included the billionth dose provided through the COVAX program, the UN health agency said.