'We're still going to have kids get COVID': Manitoba doctors address pandemic back-to-school worries in town hall

A group of Manitoba doctors are addressing concerns from the parents of children returning to the classroom in the coming days, and giving some tips on how to keep students healthy.

On Tuesday evening, a group of six doctors joined a town hall hosted by Doctors Manitoba to answer some questions from parents who will be sending their children back to school in September.

Dr. Jared Bullard, the associate medical director at Cadham Lab, said while children can get COVID-19, it is not as serious as it is for adults.

He said about 15,000 children have been infected with COVID-19 in Manitoba over the course of the pandemic, with around one-in-200 children ending up in hospital with COVID-19 and one-in-2,000 in the ICU.

He said there are precautions parents and children can take against COVID-19 – such as washing your hands after using high-touch point areas like door handles, don't share utensils or straws, wear a mask when you can't physically distance, and stay home when sick or showing symptoms.

He said all these precautions work together, though none are 100 per cent effective.

"We're still going to have kids get COVID, and it is not that they did anything wrong, and it is not that the school did anything wrong. We are in a pandemic, so you are going to see this transmission every now and then no matter what we do," he said. "It is important not to label or make people feel bad about that."

Dr. Marni Hanna, president of the Manitoba Pediatric Society, said she has heard concerns from parents of children who are too young to be vaccinated – it is something she understands first-hand with her own daughter.

"This is something that I worry about all the time as I work in a job where I never know what I might be bringing home in spite of all the precautions that we take," she said.

In situations like this, Hanna said parents can try to 'cocoon' their children.

"Trying to make sure that everyone around them that is able to get their vaccines gets them, because that will greatly reduce the potential risk to the child or the infant who is not yet able to get certain vaccines," she said.

"The best thing we can do is get vaccinated ourselves."

When it comes to having children in the classroom, Dr. Ruth Grimes, president of the Canadian Paediatric Society, said there are things teachers and schools can do to reduce the risk of transmission.

She said when weather permits, classes should be held outdoors. Windows and doors should be cracked open and fans should be running continually to keep airflow going.

In terms of masks, she said there is no danger for children to be wearing them throughout the day.

"At a physiological level, there is no disruption to my heart of lung function and this has been demonstrated in otherwise health adults and children," she said. "I can whole-heartedly reassure parents there is no health risk to children wearing masks on a continuous basis in their day at school."

You can watch the full town hall with Doctors Manitoba online