Experts urge Quebec to delay school reopening, saying next few weeks are critical

Quebec is 11 days into its planned 18-day “pause,” and the COVID-19 numbers don’t look good. It’s safe to say that so far, the lockdown hasn’t curbed the spread of the virus.

Now infectious disease experts say the next few weeks will be critical in getting the virus under control—and that Jan. 11 is too soon to reopen schools in particular. 

“If we do it now, with the numbers so high, it's not going to work, and the numbers are just going to go up and up and up,” said Michael Levy, an environmental health specialist.

“We have to balance it to go as far as possible until we get the vaccine, until people are vaccinated.”

While some parents may be counting on sending their kids back to school, many others are worried about the idea. The Montreal father who’s behind the website Covid Écoles Quebec, which tracks school outbreaks, says parents and teachers have written to him with concerns about their families’ safety.

“The numbers just got worse,” said website founder Olivier Drouin. “So the pause did not help from an economy perspective, from a school perspective -- it's actually getting worse. The key indicators are all red.”

But for many parents, balancing the various worries is incredibly stressful, said one. 

“If you're working, what are you supposed to do?” said Kathy Korakasis, who heads the English Parents’ Committee Association.

“And if you're choosing to send your kid to school, it doesn't mean you love your kid any less,” she said. “It just means that unless the government closes all businesses, what are you supposed to do?"

Some are suggesting other fixes besides postponing school reopening, including instituting frequent rapid testing, stricter protocols and extra air purifiers. 

On Monday, an open letter from scientists and health-care workers urged Canadian health officials to take aerosol transmission of COVID-19 more seriously and to focus on ventilation and air filtration.

"Whenever we open [schools], let's make sure we don't go back with the same measures that don't work,” said Levy.

“Give the parents the choice to have distanced learning,” he added.

Quebec’s education ministry said Monday that while the data is very worrying, the priority remains keeping schools open. 

But it didn’t rule out the possibility of taking further measures—or extending the lockdown.

Teachers are also anxious to hear what the plans are, saying they need time to prepare.

Premier François Legault has scheduled a special press conference for Wednesday at 5 p.m. to give some sort of COVID-related update, though the province hasn’t specified the topic.

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