Experts and teachers’ unions urge Quebec to act quickly to curb the spread of variants in schools, while their growing presence allows COVID-19 to reach a new peak in the school network which now has a record number of closed establishments.
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The official report of the Ministry of Education reports 12 schools partially or completely closed, according to data dated Friday, February 19. However, over the weekend, at least two other establishments had to close their doors to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In mid-December, when community transmission was twice as high as what we are currently experiencing, complete or partial closure had been declared in 13 schools.
Cases of variants are suspected in several schools where complete closure has recently been declared.
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The variant changes the game
The speed at which the variant infiltrates schools is of particular concern to teachers’ unions.
Last week, suspected or confirmed cases of the COVID-19 variant were detected in three schools. Monday, there were now a dozen according to a review carried out by covidecolesquebec.org.
“There are hundreds of students who switch to distance education. We can see that the variants change the equation, ”says Sylvain Mallette, president of the Autonomous Federation of Education.
The latter believes that Quebec should favor rapid tests, as soon as the first symptoms appear, rather than massive screening once the school is closed. “You have to act upstream, otherwise it’s too late,” he says.
The story is similar from the Federation of Education Unions. “We are told that our schools are an essential service, can we arrange for the essential service to continue to exist?” launches its president, Josée Scalabrini.
A fertile ground for variants
Experts also urge Quebec to set up these rapid tests to prevent schools from becoming the main site of outbreaks if the variants spread quickly.
“Schools are the place where we have the most gatherings in confined spaces without minimizing contact between people, among all the environments currently open in Quebec”, underlines Roxane Borgès Da Silva, professor at the School of public health of the University of Montreal.
The latter underlines that the risks are much greater that children are contaminated in the bubble-class, when a variant infiltrates it, since the contagiousness is greater, including in children.
For the Dr Caroline Quach, pediatrician and epidemiologist at CHU Sainte-Justine, the sinews of war remains rapid access to PCR test results, in order to quickly isolate infected people.
No change for now
On the side of the Ministry of Health, it is indicated that “there is no need to change the intervention strategy in schools”, at least “for the moment”.
“There is not sufficient data that would lead us to modify, for example, the definition of risk contacts in a case infected with a variant under enhanced surveillance”, we can read in a response recently sent to the Journal on this subject.
The National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ), however, is working to review the recommendations concerning the home isolation of contacts of people infected with a variant, adds the ministry.
According to our information, the INSPQ is considering recommending the complete isolation of a family bubble when one of its members has been in contact with a case of a variant of COVID-19.
For its part, the Direction de santé publique de Montréal could consider that a person is at high risk of contracting the virus if they have been for more than 15 minutes in the same room as a positive variant case, even if both people were more than two meters away.
Schools with confirmed or suspected variant cases
- Stanislas College, Montreal *
- Yéchiva Yavné Academy, Montreal
- School of the Great Beings *, Montreal
- Marguerite D’Youville School *, Quebec
- Fontainebleau School *, Blainville
- Equinox School, Laval
- Saint-Maxime high school, Laval
- Père-Vimont School, Laval
- Eureka School, Laval
- Mgr-Mongeau School, L’Épiphanie
- Saint-Guillaume school, L’Épiphanie
- Notre-Dame-de-Fatima * School, Landrienne (Abitibi)
- Lévis-Sauvé School, Montreal
* Complete closure of the establishment.
In the other cases, groups were closed but the school remained open.
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