For the past month, schools have had to report absences related to COVID-19, but so far, Quebec has not made this report public. It is of great interest however for the families of Park-Extension, a borough with a high population density conducive to the spread of the virus.
The Ministry of Education provided these figures: on October 12, 3,942 students were absent due to COVID-19 (without test or with test). This is 0.32% of the 1.25 million students in Quebec. Just before the end of classes on June 14, there were 2,932 students absent due to COVID-19.
It was not possible on Monday to find out how many school staff members are absent or whether this data will be made public each week, as it was during the last school year. In schools, it’s a virtual return to normal, notes Nicolas Prévost, president of the Quebec Federation of Educational Establishment Directors (FQDE). The isolation order for someone who tests positive for COVID-19 is five days. During the same period, however, 88,870 students, or 7.1%, were declared absent without any link to COVID-19. This is a fairly usual proportion which is often the result of other viruses, says Nicolas Prévost, who is more concerned about the absence of personnel. “We no longer have anyone in our substitute banks. As soon as a teacher or another member of staff tells us that he has COVID, it is extremely difficult to find a replacement, ”he explains.
There are other viruses too…
In addition to COVID-19, it is true that “other viruses are starting to come out,” says Dr. Donald Vinh, microbiologist-infectiologist at the McGill University Health Center. He cites the flu in particular. “What I fear is the combination of all of this together. People with reduced immunity for COVID-19, on top of other viruses that are starting to emerge. It’s starting to get cold, we’re going to close the windows, the children are going to stay inside, which will favour the transmission of all these viruses,” says Dr Vinh.
Masks in class?
“Except in the event of a massive return of a COVID or flu epidemic, I would prefer that we emphasize good ventilation in the classrooms rather than the return of the wearing of the mask which, according to the teachers, embarrasses communication and learning,” says Dr. Anne Gatignol, professor of microbiology at McGill University.
Wearing a mask would be “the most prudent choice”, observes Dr Vinh, who adds that “it only works if everyone wears it”. “If only a few people wear it in a room, its effectiveness is diminished. It must be done systematically, and not individually or randomly,” explains the microbiologist-infectiologist.
Call for vaccination
He calls for a “mobilization” in the coming weeks to accelerate vaccination, not only against COVID-19, but also against the flu. “Otherwise, we will be in trouble,” says Dr. Vihn.
Dr. Anne Gatignol recommends that all children and adolescents who had a COVID-19 vaccine or infection more than nine months ago get a booster dose. According to the Ministry of Health and Social Services, to date, only 1.6% of 5 to 11 year olds have had three doses of the vaccine against COVID-19. This proportion climbs to 20.2% among 12 to 17 year olds.