Conflicting messages leave Quebec's older teachers worried for their health

As schools re-open in Quebec, conflicting messages from the government has left many older teachers worrying for their safety. 

"Since April 27, when they announced this, it's always been (those over 60) will remain at home working from home," said Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers spokesperson Heidi Yetman. "However, school is reopening on Monday in the regions and they've realized they don't have enough personnel to get this going."

While the Quebec government had previously advised teachers over the age of 60 to stay home, they have since backtracked, saying those educators between the ages of 60 and 69 may go back to school if they're healthy.

“The risk of having complications is over 70. Of course people between the ages of 60 and 70 are more at risk than those under the age of 60. But if they comply with the directives of public health in going back to work, we said they can go back to work without being too worried,” said deputy premier Genevieve Guilbeault.

While teachers with chronic health conditions are still advised to stay home, public health director Horacio Arruda said the risk should be minimal for healthy teachers who follow social distancing and hygienic measures.

“The risk is always there, even for a young person. But the level where it goes up is early 70s,” he said. 

People in their 60s account for around 10 per cent of Quebec's COVID-19 cases. While people between the ages of 20 and 59 comprise around two-thirds, those between 60 and 69 account for triple the number of deaths caused by COVID-19. 

Premier Francois Legault said people approaching retirement age are at higher risk than young adults but are still lower risk than people in theri 70s and 80s.

"If you are in good shape at 65-years-old, I think you must have the right to go back to work," he said. "We are trying to balance liberty and health."

Yetman said she believes the government is just trying to find enough teachers to fill classrooms.

"If you put one and one together, it makes two and to me, it's only that," she said. "This is not about health or safety. It's about opening the schools on Monday with enough staff and with enough personnel for the schools."

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