Montreal

Families struggling as cocktail of classroom viruses keeps Quebec's kids at home

According to Quebec’s Education Ministry, over 150,000 students were absent from school this week — over 12 per cent of the entire student population.

Schools grappling with more absences than during Omicron wave

According to Quebec's education ministry, over 150,000 students were absent from school this week — over 12 per cent of the entire student population. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Ask any parent in Quebec what's going on right now, and they'll tell you — everyone is sick.

That's how it was for Gloria Oppong. She said "everything kind of broke loose" last week when all three of her young children were suddenly too sick to go to school. 

"So Friday we all stayed at home. I'm very grateful that I work from home, but it was tough to have all the kids at home," she said.

"Even with daycare I didn't have to stay home as much as now."

She's not alone. Parents across Quebec are struggling to cope as increasingly more children are staying home sick, due to a combination of viruses circulating in the province and schools.

According to Quebec's Education Ministry, over 150,000 students were absent from school this week — over 12 per cent of the entire student population. That's more absences than in February, at the height of the province's Omicron wave of COVID-19.

With the worst of the season still to come, many are worried that it's going to get worse before it gets better.

"This is not going to be a good winter at all. We haven't even started and this is what we're getting," Oppong said. "So yeah, I'm really, really concerned."

Gloria Oppong's three children were all home sick last week while she tried to work from home. (Submitted by Gloria Oppong)

Immunocompromised in school

Stephanie Peillon's immunocompromised teenage daughter was also home sick. Peillon said they rushed to the hospital last year after an adverse reaction to COVID-19 — and looking ahead, she's not feeling optimistic.

"I don't know if anybody gets tested anymore … it's hard on an everyday basis," she said. 

Peillon said she wants her daughter to live a normal, 13-year-old life, but as someone who works in an elementary school, she said she's also seeing first-hand the scale of the problem.

Stephanie Peillon, left, said she's worried about what would happen if her 13-year-old daughter got sick now. (Submitted by Stephanie Pillion)

"It's unheard of. I've never ever had to call so many parents to come get so many kids that are so sick," she said. Her husband, who also works in schools, said he's seeing the same.

"We lie down at night and it's like: 'Oh my God, how did we get through this day?' And every day is like that," she said. "You're like on adrenaline and you're just going with it."

She said she's worried about what would happen if her daughter needed to go to the ER again. Pediatric hospitals in the Montreal area are overloaded and operating over capacity, leading to long delays for treatment.

Peillon said she only sees one solution: masks, for adults and children alike.

"Our public health system is not doing anything. We're just letting go, for the couple of people that don't want to wear a mask anymore," she said.

"Who's here to protect our children?"

Masks encouraged, but not recommended

At a recent news conference, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé and public health officials once again recommended wearing masks in crowded public spaces.

However, the measure is not mandatory, and the recommendation does not extend to daycares and schools.

Speaking briefly to reporters Wednesday, Education Minister Bernard Drainville said the ministry is following public health recommendations.

Based on reporting by CBC's Steve Rukavina

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