Although Premier Francois Legault had announced the government’s intention to reopen schools and daycare centres in Quebec by May 4th, a public outcry from teachers and parents made him quickly rethink the plans. During his April 16th news conference, Legault said the decision to reopen schools ‘is out of the question for now’, reiterating the decision he announced last Saturday April 12th. “I think that even in the next few months, when we will reopen the school, it’s clear that some parents will be scared to send their children to school,” Legault had said and added, “But what I want to be clear about the reopening of schools, is that it will not be done until we have, first, the agreement of the public health, and second, that I have personally the assurance that there’s no risk for the children and for the teachers… maybe the way I said it scared some people and I’m sorry about that, but the facts are that we have some scenarios before May 4th.”
The Quebec government was concerned about what parents would do with their children if they needed to go back to work – when economic activities slowly resume, once the peak of COVID-19 cases is reached. However, worries over the two metres physical distancing rules were prominently voiced by those opposed to the idea, as it would be difficult at best to enforce. There are still many unknowns with this new virus and although there have been very few cases of children reported with COVID-19, a disconcerting possibility remains of them being infected. Children can be asymptomatic and pass the virus on to other children and teachers, many who are over 60 years old and more vulnerable – and in turn, it can spread outside of the schools, into their homes and beyond.
Nevertheless, Quebec’s director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said the reopening schools would mean that children, who are not considered ‘high risk’ of developing complications from COVID-19, would participate in what he called ‘the natural immunization of the population’. The scientific term for it is ‘herd immunity’. Herd immunity is a ‘form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through previous infections or vaccination, providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune’. The chains of the virus are disrupted and less likely to spread on its own, either stopping or significantly slowing down the reproduction rate of the disease. The more people become immune, the probability of those without immunity becoming infected drops sharply – much like the way a vaccine works in the greater population. In the case of vaccines, there are still many people who refuse to have one. Herd immunity needs to reach at least a majority of a population for it really to be effective. There are still unknowns about COVID-19, making the risk of using our children questionable. It is extremely rare for children to die or develop complications from COVID-19 – but is it reasonable to consider reopening schools when there are still so many questions? Or does it make sense?