Quebec considers temporarily closing schools as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Premier Francois Legault admitted at a news conference on Thursday that his government is considering closing schools temporarily as COVID-19 cases in the province continue to increase.

"It remains the last solution, but currently, when one looks at the situation, we should not exclude any solution," Legault told reporters in Quebec City.

Since the start of the school year 10,067 students and staff at both public and private institutions have tested positive for the disease. As of Nov. 11 (the government's latest update) 3,034 of those cases are active and 1,214 classes are closed across the province. 

"Schools are a place of transmission. It is why we're evaluating the possibility of closing the schools for a limited period of time," Legault said. "We have to consider all our options to break the wave."

The idea marks a policy turn, since as recently as Sept. 17, Quebec officials had said that school closures this year would be rare, even in red zones.

He also says they're looking into options and are discussing with unions the possibility of extending the school year into summer.

— Angela MacKenzie (@AMacKenzieCTV) November 12, 2020

The province will meet with education unions about extending the school year into the summer to make up for lost weeks, and Legault assured that parents will be given advanced warning of any closures.

It was unclear exactly how and when Legault envisioned starting the closure, though one idea floated was that the Christmas break would simply be extended.

On Wednesday, Concordia University announced it is extending its break by one week and adding a week at the end of the term.

PARENTS AND TEACHERS CAUGHT OFF GUARD

If a temporary shut-down for elementary and high schools mean extending their years into the summer, teachers won't be happy, said one teachers' union leader.

"Can you imagine if we extend the school year into July?" asked Heidi Yetman of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers.

"Teachers will not rejuvenate, they will not recuperate, and we’re going to be looking at teachers that are going to be leaving the profession."

The head of the English Parents' Committee of Quebec, which represents about 100,000 students' families, said that parents were reacting strongly after being caught off guard with the news. 

Despite being in frequent touch with the education ministry, said Katherine Korakakis, "it was news to me."

As soon as the news came out, "I was bombarded by texts, by email, by calls from parents," she said, "saying, 'Oh my God, how does this help parents? What am I going to do for work? What’s going on?'”

Korakakis said the twists and turns to policy have been hard for many parents, and that the parents, in turn, were worried that all the disruptions and changes will affect the kids' schooling and how much they learn.

However, she said she personally believes that while having kids at home again would be very tough on many parents, she believes everyone has to make sacrifices to tackle the pandemic.

The head of the EMSB parents' committee said the same.

"I can tell you, March and April, May, June were very difficult having everyone home, but we did what we had to do, and my clients had to understand," said Caleigh Saucier.

NUMBERS CONTINUE TO GROW, WITH 42 NEW DEATHS

Quebec reported Thursday that 42 more people have died due to COVID-19, as another region enters the province's highest alert status.

Public health officials also said that 1,365 more people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the province bringing the total number of cases to 119,894 since the start of the pandemic. 

There has been an average of 1,262 new cases each day for the past week.

Of the 42 deaths, nine were reported in the past 24 hours with 27 reported between Nov. 5 and Nov. 10. Two deaths were also reported before Nov. 5 and four from an unknown date.

Montreal reported eight of those deaths (3,562 total), Chaudiere-Appalaches reported six (93 total), as did Monteregie (777 total), and the Quebec City region reported five new deaths (367 total).

The Estrie (Eastern Townships region) is the latest to enter the red zone and added 73 new cases Thursday (3,359 total) and four more deaths (51 total).

The highest increases were found in Montreal with 325 new confirmed cases (45,612 total), Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean with 197 new (2,608 total), Monteregie with 172 new (17,338 total), and Lanaudiere with 138 new (9.078)

Laval's 76 new cases make it the third region with over 10,000 new confirmed cases, as the island now has reported 10,057 total cases.

MOST OUTBREAKS LINKED TO WORKPLACES

Quebec's Institute of Public Health reports that there are now 11,930 active COVID-19 cases. The highest percentage of those outbreaks have been in the workplace, where Quebec reports 741 active outbreaks (49.1 per cent).

Educational facilities account for 415 outbreaks (27.5 per cent), and living and care environments account for 193 active outbreaks (12.8 per cent).

The number of hospitalizations in the province also increased Thursday, with 10 more people being treated in the province's hospitals. That total is now 583.

Of those, 86 people are in the intensive care ward, which is an increase of two.

Quebec also reports that 843 more people have recovered from the disease, bringing that total to 101,407. 

LEGAULT FACES MORE HEAT OVER VENTILATION

Despite increased calls this week for movement by the province to improve school ventilation, Legault said Thursday he doesn't see it as a significant weak spot when it comes to the virus.

"Public Health authorities tell us that there's no indication that the transmission is linked to a ventilation problem," he said.

School boards don't appear to feel the same way. The Lester B. Pearson School Board is installing half a million dollars' worth of new ventilation equipment in the coming weeks, while the EMSB is working on an infrastructure plan that could be enacted as soon as the province provides ventilation funding.

Legault and health authorities faced criticism this week from the opposition parties over their ventilation plans, or lack of plans, and Health Minister Christian Dubé said in a radio interview that "in hindsight," he believes school ventilation should have been improved over the summer.

With files from The Canadian Press. 

    COVID-19 CASES IN QUEBEC
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