Saskatoon epidemiologist says move to online learning critical in race against COVID-19 variants

Epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine says in order to keep all kids and families safe from COVID-19 variants, everyone should be moving to online learning.

“We are now racing against the variant and we want to win, not the variants,” he said.

“Kids come home to their families and they can bring the virus back home as well as take it to school, to their classrooms, even if they’re distancing from each other.”

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) is also calling for students across the province to move to remote learning after the Easter break.

It comes as all three of Regina’s school divisions announced Thursday that they will continue online learning for an additional two weeks through to April 23.

The decision was made amid rising COVID-19 cases and the spread of variants of concern in southern Saskatchewan.

In Saskatoon, all students and staff at three separate schools are being told to get tested with the spread of variants suspected.

Outbreaks at Tommy Douglas Collegiate, along with Bethlehem High School and Brevoort Park School have raised the alerts.

“It spreads exponentially and we saw that in Regina...the variant-driven cases doubled and tripled from March 8 to March 22 and that can easily happen in Saskatoon,” Muhajarine said.

Amna Ansari’s eight-year-old son who is in Grade 2 is already doing online learning.

“I did not have the heart to send him with everything that’s going on, so I feel pretty safe that he’s learning from home and he’s doing well,” she told CTV News.

At the provincial COVID-19 press conference Thursday afternoon, Health Minister Paul Merriman said the decision of whether to move online has been left up to the school divisions as COVID activity is different in each community.

“They have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in their specific community and we feel that they can make those decisions locally,” he said.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili said more action needs to be taken, such as what has been done by the Regina and Moose Jaw school boards.

“They moved a lot more quickly when it came to changing things in Regina and in Moose Jaw. The province has still done nothing, Scott Moe has still done nothing. I think we should be listening to educators and paying very close attention to what’s happening with variants and an extended break is something that needs to be considered.”

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and Saskatoon Public Schools said they are not planning on moving to online learning after the Easter break because they are not seeing the same spike in cases as other areas in the province.

However, they said they will continue following the advice of public health officials and are ready to pivot if needed.