Unfair to close schools when almost no other public health restrictions in place: Saskatoon pediatrician

Students continue to return to school this week across Saskatchewan, despite concerns about cases of the Omicron variant.

Some parents worried, but say kids need the routine that comes with school

A kindergarten class, at King Edward Junior and Senior Public School, in Toronto, is pictured on Feb. 25, 2021. Kids in Saskatchewan are returning to school as planned this week. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Students continue to return to school this week across Saskatchewan, despite concerns about cases of the Omicron variant.

Some students went back to school on Monday, while most others are set to return on Tuesday.

On Friday, the province reported 735 new cases of the virus, the highest number of new cases in a day since the pandemic began. The new cases are believed to be largely driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant. 

Saskatchewan and Yukon continue to be the only areas in the country that have not delayed the opening of K-12 schools.

While some people believe students should be returning to school at a later date, a pediatrician in Saskatoon said closing schools and moving to online learning would not be fair to children, as the province has very few other public health restrictions in place to curb community spread. 

"Schools are not going to be what drives community transmission or further spread of Omicron," said Dr. Karen Leis.

"I think it's unfair to ask kids to miss their activities, miss their school when we have no other measures in place."

Leis said the decision to keep kids at home is very complicated and nuanced. She said it's important that families are careful, and advised that children should remain masked during extracurricular activities, even if it is not required.

On Monday, the NDP opposition asked the Saskatchewan government to delay school opening by an extra week. to give the province more time to develop a comprehensive back-to-school plan for school divisions.

However, in an emailed statement, the provincial government said it already has a plan in place, including sending 250,000 rapid tests to schools across Saskatchewan, as well as disposable, medical-grade surgical masks.

Back into routine

Erin O'Connor, a parent of three children who attend École Canadienne-Française in Saskatoon, said her kids have been stuck inside for two weeks, between the holiday, COVID and the cold weather. 

"For our family, this is actually good news," she said. 

"They need the stability, they need the routine, they need to be able to go back to school and see their friends, see their teachers."

O'Connor said she knows that not every parent feels this way, and that despite her desire for her kids to return to school, there is worry. 

Dan Dreger is a father in Regina, who said he feels cautious.

"[We're] getting used to it," he said Monday.

"[My daughter] has been pretty good. Their teachers are fantastic at keeping them apart and safe ... They're doing their best and we've been lucky so far."

With files from CBC's Jessie Anton and SRC


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