While the ‘second-wave’ of the pandemic continues to spread and the numbers of cases reported in Quebec breaks records, Preschool and Elementary schools reopened on January 11th 2021, with Secondary schools reopening on January 18th – all with new safety protocols in place. However, many parents are questioning if the measures will be enough to keep their children safe, with some choosing to keep theirs at home. Others feel their children’s education, mental health and the importance of socializing with their friends outweigh the risks. For some parents, especially those who are required to go to work, there is little choice. It is also difficult for parents working from home, trying to balance their office work responsibilities with those of their children’s needs. The decisions having to be made either way are unprecedented.
The Quebec government maintains that schools have not been a major vector of transmission, with Premier Francois Legault calling the reopening of schools ‘a calculated risk’. However, a recent study (conducted by researchers at the Université de Montréal, George Washington University in the US, along with Covid Écoles Quebec) proposes that Montreal schools are the driving factor behind the spread of COVID-19 in the Montreal community. The study measured infections in the city between September and early January and showed that cases first increased among children between the ages of 10 to 19 years old – followed afterwards by increases in adults aged between 30 and 49 years old.
One of researchers in the study, Simona Bignami (from Université de Montréal) believes the results show that cases among children were not the result of community transmission, as government officials have suggested, but rather the other way around. She explained that they examined the number of new cases among children aged 0 to 9 and 10 to18 years old, and compared them with cases among adults aged 30 to 49, the age of most parents. “You really see that the incidents in the kids precedes in time the raise of new cases in the adults by a few weeks,” she said and that they looked at the distribution of COVID-19 cases by neighbourhood in the city from reports published by Montreal health authorities. And what they found was disconcerting.
The fastest increase in the cases in adults followed a large increase in children. “These are the neighbourhoods where there have been more schools reporting cases and more cases in the schools,” she explained. Oliver Drouin, who founded Covid Écoles Quebec and has been tracking cases in schools since last year, participated in the study and said, “When you have a case in school, you may have one, two, three other cases at home that are not counted as school cases, but of course they are counted as home cases. You really see that the incidents in the kids precedes in time the raise of new cases in the adults by a few weeks.” In his press conference last Monday January 11th, Premier Legault repeated that the reopening of schools was ‘a calculated risk’ and said, “I understand there’s a risk bringing back in the schools, but we have to put into balance that there are other disadvantages to keeping them at home.” The questions now: what are the right measures that should be taken by Quebec to help control the spread of the virus? Should schools remain closed? However, at what cost to our children?