COVID-19: Relief, anxiety as children return to school this week

But the scheduled return to classrooms on Monday will be delayed across much of the province due to the arrival of a major winter storm.

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As thousands of preschool, elementary and high school students across Quebec return to class this week after several days of remote learning, the response from parents, teachers and experts has been a mixture of relief and awe. anxiety.

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Schools were due to reopen on Monday, but most school boards and service centers in the Montreal area announced on Sunday that they would remain closed due to the winter storm. The English Montreal, Lester B. Pearson, Riverside, New Frontiers and Sir Wilfrid Laurier school boards are all closed on Monday, as are the three French-language school service centers on the island of Montreal.

The province has promised several measures to ensure students return safely. More surgical masks will be available in schools and 7.2 million rapid tests will be distributed to preschool and primary school students. The deployment of carbon dioxide detectors will continue until February and air exchangers will be installed in schools that request them.

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But these measures are far from reassuring for parents and teachers who deplore an “inconsistency” and a “vagueness” in the government’s speeches.

“We are told that there is a peak, that our health system can no longer support it, but we are bringing everyone back to school. This is called inconsistency in messaging,” said Josée Scalabrini, president of the Federation of Education Unions.

And in the union ranks there were doubts about the quality of ventilation in schools and dissatisfaction with a refusal to provide N95 masks to all teachers. Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec’s acting director of public health, said Quebec has reserved N95 masks for classroom and school staff for students with special needs because “it’s not necessary in schools. ordinary”.

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The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Quebec rose Sunday by 105 to 3,300 in another record in a busy week, according to the latest update from the Ministry of Health on Sunday.

While unvaccinated people over the age of four make up just 12.6% of the population, ministry data shows that 69% of the 419 new hospitalizations were in this group. Of these, 282 patients are in intensive care – an increase of seven and another all-time high.

The province also announced that 21 additional deaths have been attributed to the virus, bringing the death toll to 12,310. Quebec’s seven-day rolling average for COVID-19-related deaths, which did not exceed 10 in last eight months of 2021, now stands at 53.

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An additional 5,946 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed by the province through PCR testing at its clinics. Since most Quebecers are not currently eligible for the PCR test and must rely on rapid home tests, this figure is not representative of the situation across Quebec.

Rather, hospital admissions currently serve as a surrogate marker reflecting what is happening in the community, said Dr. Earl Rubin, division director of pediatric infectious diseases at the Montreal Children’s Hospital of the University Center for McGill health.

The date of December 25, 2021 is arbitrarily used as the date after which any COVID-19 infection is considered to be with the Omicron variant, he said. Indications in countries where Omicron declared earlier than Canada are that the rise of the variant has been strong but less time has elapsed before the numbers start to fall than with the Delta variant, which lasted over four months.

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The number of MUHC health care workers off work because they were exposed to COVID-19 or became infected themselves has declined in recent days, Rubin said Sunday.

“Hopefully it’s a marker of what’s going on in the community.”

With schools reopening and many healthcare workers being parents of school-aged children, the concern is that those who have not yet been infected are contracting it from their children and that could mean another cohort of workers, did he declare.

After contracting COVID-19, one is immune to reinfection for at least two or three months, Rubin said. The hope then is that the young, healthy population infected with the variant will be immune, and “as more people become immune, more people become less susceptible.”

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Although many parents are relieved that schools are reopening for their children’s learning, a lack of clarity persists, said Kevin Roy, president of the Federation of Parents’ Committees of Quebec.

“What parents would like is to have understandable and clear information on, among other things, case management,” he told The Canadian Press.

Roy said he would like to see the distribution of rapid test kits for high school students and actions to accelerate the first doses of the vaccine to 5 to 11 year olds. And the possibility of parents helping out in the classroom to replace teachers “could scare some parents off,” he said.

Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said parents would not become teachers or substitute teachers, but called “as a last resort” for temporarily monitoring a class if there is a high rate of teacher absenteeism due to of Omicron.

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A total of 795,753 infections have now been confirmed in the province since the first was reported in February 2020.

This story was produced with financial assistance from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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  2. Catherine Hankins is a professor of population and public health at McGill and co-chair of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

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  3. Paramedics bring a patient to the emergency room of Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal, Thursday, January 13, 2022.

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  4. A 3rd grade teacher and students wear masks in class at a Lester B. Pearson School Board elementary school in the West Island on September 9, 2021.

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