COVID-19 cases continue to rise in schools in Quebec

Despite a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Quebec schools, pediatricians say it’s important to keep them open for in-person learning.

The increase in cases in children is predictable given the increasing transmission of the Delta variant in the general population and the fact that children under the age of 12 cannot yet be vaccinated, said disease specialist Dr Jesse Papenburg. infectious diseases at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

But Jesse Papenburg, however, said there was no evidence that the Delta variant is more likely to cause serious illness in children than the original strain of the new one. coronavirus.

It’s a “very, very transmissible virus, we’re going to see more cases,” he said in an interview. “But fortunately the risk of serious illness remains low, and we have yet to see a substantial increase in hospitalizations among children. “

Although there has been an increase in the number of pediatric patients with COVID-19 in parts of the United States, Dr Papenburg has indicated that this is happening in places with low vaccination rates. These low rates have resulted in much higher transmission among all segments of the population, including children, he said.

Dr. Papenburg believes that higher vaccination rates in Quebec should help protect those who are too young to be vaccinated and help keep schools open.

“I really think we need to continue to prioritize in-person learning for children,” he said. “Yes, we want to make it as safe as possible, but we also want to preserve the elements of socialization that are essential for a child’s development. “

The health ministry said there were 657 schools in Quebec with active cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the most recent day for which data is available, an increase of 66 from Thursday.

The ministry said there were 980 active cases of the disease among students, an increase of 232 from the previous day, as were 126 staff members, an increase of 33.

“One in five schools in Quebec has at least one case, and many of them, if not all, have more than one case,” observed Olivier Drouin, a Montreal parent and founder of Covid Écoles Québec, a website that tracks the evolution of COVID-19 in schools across the province. “I’ve been monitoring this for a year and haven’t seen this growth in such a short time. “

The health ministry said 147 classrooms – in public and private schools – have been closed.

This is difficult for teachers, who must be prepared to switch to online teaching with 48 hours’ notice, said Heidi Yetman, president of the Provincial Association of Teachers of Quebec, which represents teachers in the schools. English language schools.

Heidi Yetman laments that the promised improvements to ventilation in schools have been slow to come.

“Personally, I am very worried,” she said. “It’s only been two weeks and we already have many cases, many classes that have been affected. I only see it getting worse as we move into the season when the windows will be closed. “

Dr. Olivier Drouin, a pediatrician at Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal, said that although some children become seriously ill from COVID-19, the risk is quite low. He said the most tangible impact is that parents will have to stay home with children who cannot go to school because they have COVID-19.

With the right measures in place to detect and prevent outbreaks, he believes schools should stay open.

“There is a real cost to children not going to school, whether it’s because there is an epidemic or because we want to prevent transmission,” he said. “The children suffered, not medically, but they certainly suffered physically, mentally and emotionally from the pandemic. “

Quebec’s Ministry of Education said it was rolling out rapid COVID-19 tests this week in several schools in Montreal and its northern suburb of Laval.

However, Kathleen Legault, president of the association representing school principals in Montreal, lamented the fact that school staff do not have time to do the tests, which can take around 30 minutes. She said the training materials received on Friday were aimed at medical professionals and not suitable for teachers.

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