Different COVID-19 rules for Sask. schools confusing and unsafe, say some parents, doctors

The way COVID-19 strategies on masking, classroom closures and other issues differ among Saskatchewan's school divisions is confusing and unsafe, say some parents and medical experts.

Opposition leader Ryan Meili says Premier Scott Moe has 'given up' on fighting COVID-19

The lineup for COVID-19 testing stretched far down Thatcher Avenue in Saskatoon Tuesday. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

The way COVID-19 strategies on masking, classroom closures and other issues differ among Saskatchewan's school divisions is confusing and unsafe, say some parents and medical experts.

For example, Saskatoon Public Schools now requires masks for anyone inside their buildings, but the Chinook School Division in the Swift Current area only requires masking in the halls and on buses.

In Saskatoon, one of the province's hot spots, the discovery of positive cases resulted in a letter to parents, but those classes remain open. In the Chinook division, where case counts are far lower, single cases have resulted in a two-week move to online learning for classes in three separate communities, said an official.

Officials from both divisions say they're taking advice and direction from local health officials. But those local medical health officers across the province have publicly said the government and school divisions aren't doing enough. 

"I feel like school administrators and boards are struggling a little bit to come up with a strong, consistent method of approaching this year," said parent Aaron Genest. "It's hard. I appreciate that. But as a parent, the information I got didn't help me make any real decisions about what to do."

Aaron Genest spent much of Tuesday in a line to get his son tested for COVID-19 after someone in his class tested positive. Genest and others say clear, provincewide policies would keep everyone informed and safe. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

Genest spent much of Tuesday in his car with his 15-year-old son, waiting in a line for COVID testing. A positive case was detected in three of his son's Saskatoon high school classes. His son developed mild symptoms Tuesday, so Genest took him to get tested.

Genest said all of this might not have been necessary with clear, strong rules from the start. Divisions in Saskatoon and Regina didn't have a mask mandate for the first two days of school last week. Genest said his son told him most people were unmasked.

"It's better to have kids in school, by a long shot. But I'd like to understand why things are the way they are," Genest said.

Dr. Cory Neudorf, interim senior medical health officer for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said a regional "designer approach" may have been appropriate when cases were low, but not any more.

"The hospitals are busting at the seams, ICUs are filling or full. This is a very serious issue right now," Neudorf said.

Neudorf, also a professor of community health and epidemiology in the University of Saskatchewan's college of medicine, is one of the local medical health officers pressing the provincial government to do more. That includes immediate mandatory masking and vaccination for all eligible students and school staff. Their calls have been endorsed by the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and other groups.

"We've tried asking, we've tried educating and we've tried convincing them to do the right thing for the community," Neudorf said. He noted every other province with a vaccination passport or mandate has seen surges in vaccination bookings.

Saskatchewan Opposition leader Ryan Meili and health critic Vicki Mowat said Premier Scott Moe has hosted more golf tournaments than news conferences to keep people informed about the exploding COVID-19 numbers in the province. (Jason Warick/CBC)

In a news conference Wednesday outside Royal University Hospital and the Jim Pattison Children's Hospital in Saskatoon, Opposition leader Ryan Meili and health critic Vicki Mowat said Premier Scott Moe has given up on the fight against COVID.

They reiterated their call for mandatory vaccination for all school staff as well as other safety measures.

They say Moe is being influenced by far right, anti-vaccine, anti-mask elements within his party.

"He's afraid to do anything, and as a result, he's letting kids get sick. He's letting people die. And you know it's gross when you see people putting politics before the lives of people at any time. But now, in the middle of a pandemic, it's not only repulsive, it's absolutely criminal," Meili said.

In an emailed statement, a provincial Ministry of Health official said they are continuing to review their policies and that local health officials will continue to work with schools.


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