Doctor, teachers’ federation disappointed with lack of COVID-19 measures as cases spike in Sask. schools

As kids are back to school, dusting off their binders and textbooks, COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high among Saskatchewan youth.

Concern is growing as schools see dozens of cases.

So far this year, Saskatoon Public Schools have seen 32 cases of COVID-19, Saskatoon Catholic Schools with 26, Regina Public Schools with 13 and Regina Catholic Schools have had two.

At this time last year, all four school boards didn’t have any known COVID-19 cases. These reported cases include both students and staff.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, spoke at a news conference Friday morning where the province announced new measures. This includes reinstating mandatory self-isolation and health care service reductions.

Shahab discussed the rise in cases in the province’s youngest demographic as schools fill back up.

“Last year, transmission was lower because schools had many layers of protection, universities were online. Now, we are seeing the highest case rates are actually in children 18 and under,” Shahab said.

Dr. Paul Olszynski, an emergency room doctor in Saskatoon, says the lack of government mandates is disappointing.

“We were expecting the province to follow the advice of the medical health officers. You have the unanimous consent amongst all of them that masking should be happening and it should be strongly supported and enforceable,” Olszynski said.

“The province backed away from that, unfortunately.”

Olszynski said the decision by the Saskatoon and Regina school boards to implement mandatory masking was a good first step – but without masks made mandatory in public spaces, schools will inevitably see transmission.

“These are not isolated ecosystems. They're all related. We need to bring the prevalence down if we want our kids to stay safe, to be able to enjoy school and to have fun learning experiences, which I think they all deserve,” Olszynski said.

SASK. TEACHERS’ FEDERATION RESPONDS

Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, said the lack of action announced during Friday’s news conference wasn’t what he was hoping to see.

“They still leave many of our students in our schools unprotected. Masks are still not mandatory across the province in our schools, yet we know there are dozens and dozens of cases in the first few days alone,” Maze told CTV News.

“Moving towards mandating health care workers is a step in the right direction. We would like, at the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, to see that extended to all of our employees and eligible students in our schools as well.”

Maze said the number of COVID-19 cases already being reported out of Saskatoon and Regina schools is a concern.

“It really is a bit overwhelming to hear the number of cases that we've already experienced in our schools. It actually surpasses even what I had thought we would be at,” Maze said.

Maze said the idea that vaccines are a choice is not the right way to go about convincing more people in the province to get the jab.

“Every time we hear 'Vaccinations are a choice,' that’s the wrong message. We don’t allow people to drink and drive, even though you could say ‘It’s my choice.’ It’s not your choice. You put others at risk,” Maze said.

“We need our premier to understand and take ownership of that and show some leadership.” 

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