More health restrictions needed to keep children safe, Sask. epidemiologist says
As COVID-19 cases increase in Saskatchewan youth, medical experts say more restrictions are needed in schools to stop the transmission of the virus.
On Thursday, 24 per cent of the province’s new cases were in children under 12 and more than 15 schools are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks.
An epidemiologist with the University of Saskatchewan said cases are increasing among young children because of a lack of pandemic restrictions in schools.
“We should not have had a policy of opening schools without any very clearly articulated government directives and government-imposed health orders,” Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine said. “We knew the Delta variant was spreading.”
He said the current system of having each school division come up with their restrictions is a “piecemeal approach” that won’t work long term.
The Ministry of Health said it is approaching COVID-19 exposures in classrooms differently than in the 2020-21 school year.
In the 2020-21 school year full classrooms would isolate if there was exposure.
The province’s new isolation rules state students who are symptomatic or have been deemed a close contact and are showing symptoms must isolate. If a student is exposed but is fully vaccinated or not showing symptoms, they can attend class.
In a statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Health said its approach is based on prioritizing the importance of in-class learning and vaccination rates among those over 12 years-old within the school community.
“When cases are identified in schools, schools and school divisions will continue to be notified by public health officials in order to inform students and parents,” the province said in a written statement. “Contact tracing will continue to occur in school settings, as has been the case throughout the pandemic. This year’s approach also includes distributing testing kits to schools across the province.”
The Saskatchewan School Board Association (SSBA) is also leaving vaccine policies up to school divisions.
On Thursday the Prairie Valley School Division said it has had 31 cases impacting 11 schools since the start of September. One classroom was moved to online learning for two weeks due to COVID-19 transmission.
When asked about transmission in schools the division’s director of education Luc Lerminiaux said there is always concern.
“Honestly I defer to our medical health experts to help us out. It’s not for me to question what their advice is, it’s simply to seek it and put it in place in our schools,” Lerminiaux said.
Elizabeth Middle School in Kindersley moved completely to online learning on Tuesday due to COVID-19. The Sun West School Division said 273 students will be learning remotely until October 5.
Muhajarine said the province needs to step in and enact more health orders to keep children in the classroom and slow the spread of the virus.
He said a good step would be to limit gathering sizes and mandate proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test, for those in schools who are old enough to get vaccinated.