Better Measures Needed to Reopen Quebec Schools, Experts Say

“At this time … there is concern that the health network may not be able to handle the predicted increase in cases. So how will the network handle the level of transmission that we know we will see by the time schools reopen?

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With COVID-19 cases still at record levels, public health experts fear that Quebec has not made the necessary adjustments to safely reopen schools next week.


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And with the province’s hospital network about to overflow, they say, more urgent measures are needed in schools to limit the impact the reopening will have on broadcasting.

“Right now, even with schools closed, there is concern that the health network will not be able to handle the predicted increase in cases,” said Dr. Simona Bignami, a professor at the Université de Montréal who studied transmission in schools. during previous waves.

“So how will the network handle the level of transmission that we know we will see by the time the schools reopen?”

Given the increase in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, Quebec has delayed the return to in-person learning for most primary and secondary students until next Monday, January 17.


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On Tuesday, Prime Minister François Legault said his goal remains to get students back to class as soon as possible. For his part, the newly appointed acting director of public health, Luc Boileau, said he will assess the situation and intends to make a final decision on Thursday.

Last week, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said the province will prepare for the reopening by distributing more rapid tests to primary schools (a total of 7.2 million in February) and providing more masks for students and staff. . Some 50,000 carbon dioxide detectors will also be added to classrooms to help assess ventilation levels.

But since then, pressure has mounted on the government, both from unions and from teachers and parents, to postpone reopening or do more to address some of the problems that have made schools prone to outbreaks.


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In an open letter published in La Presse on Tuesday , more than a dozen doctors said the government needs to implement a clear plan to manage the risks that the reopening brings.

Although everyone agrees that children should return to the classroom as quickly as possible, both for the well-being of the students and their parents, they said it cannot be done in a way that risks a greater load on the hospital network.

The letter points to the fact that before the government decided to close schools, they accounted for about half of all COVID-19 outbreaks in the month of December.

And while children are less likely to develop severe symptoms, he says, the risk should not be overlooked. Vaccination among young children has slowed in recent weeks, with first-dose coverage only 58 percent, and high school students are not yet eligible for booster shots.


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For a safe reopening, the letter calls for a systematic evaluation of students through rapid tests, allowing school personnel to wear N95 masks if they wish, and improving ventilation and air filtration in schools that need it.

In an interview Tuesday, one of the letter’s authors said she believes Quebec should not reopen schools next week if the province cannot commit to making at least some of the changes beforehand.

“Students would return to school in the same conditions as before the holidays, when 50 percent of the outbreaks were in schools, while we mostly dealt with the Delta variant,” said Dr. Nathalie Grandvaux of the CHUM Research Center.

“There is no reason to believe that it will not be worse with the Omicron variant,” added Grandvaux. “And the big difference is how much worse the health network is now.”


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To date, despite being questioned on the issue, Quebec has not recommended that schools add air purifiers to classrooms or that school personnel should wear N95 masks at work.

Last year, an expert committee commissioned by the provincial government to investigate the use of air purifiers concluded that the machines have not been shown to limit transmission and could cause a false sense of security.

For Dr. José-Luis Jiménez, a professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder who studies disease transmission, Quebec’s position on this is contrary to what is known about how COVID-19 is transmitted through the air.

Jiménez said that both N95 masks and air purifiers have been shown to work as part of a layered approach and would be useful tools to add to Quebec schools.


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He believes schools can be safely opened if the correct measures are put in place, including focusing on ventilation and ensuring students are careful when removing masks during lunchtime.

But what if poorly ventilated schools reopen without additional measures and precautions?

“At that point, how to say this, you’re basically almost growing Omicron,” Jiménez said. “You are creating conditions in which many children will become infected.”

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