With three weeks to go until the school year starts, the Prince Edward Island government has yet to release a plan for COVID-19 precautions that will be in place to protect students and staff.
Steve Howard, Green MLA and Official Opposition critic for education and lifelong learning, issued a statement Tuesday urging the government to immediately release back-to-school plans.
"Parents need to be able to plan. Students need to be able to plan. Staff need to be able to know that they're comfortable with whatever the plan might be," Howard said.
"We've got an entire cohort of unvaccinated children 12 and under that are going to be coming together. How are they going to be in large groups?"
At a COVID-19 briefing last Tuesday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said a back-to-school plan for the fall would be released by the end of the week.
As of Tuesday, those plans have still not been released. But in a statement to CBC News, the Chief Public Health Office said there "has not been any delay in the process." It also said CPHO met with education officials Tuesday morning to discuss fall plans.
The Department of Education and Lifelong Learning said in a statement that the plans will be released "in the coming days."
'This is serious stuff'
Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said governments across Canada should have released COVID-19 school plans months ago.
"We're so late in the game," he said.
Deonandan is worried Canada could see outbreaks in schools like in the United States, where the delta variant is causing increasing rates of pediatric hospitalizations.
"It's no joke," he said. "Even though a small proportion of kids will become infected and a small proportion of those infected will be hospitalized, a small percentage of a large number is a large number."
One per cent of COVID-19 infections in the pediatric population end up hospitalized, Deonandan said. A third of those cases require intensive care, and "a handful of those will die," he said.
"This is serious stuff."
Mandatory vaccines, ventilation and masks
Deonandan said school boards should provide students with free N95 masks, which are more protective than regular cloth masks. He also thinks school staff should be required to get vaccinated.
"No one has a constitutional right to a particular job. They have a constitutional right to the integrity and autonomy of their bodies, but not to the job. So if you don't want the jab, get another job."
The Public Schools Branch will not require school staff to be vaccinated when classes resume in September, the organization said in a statement to CBC News. The French Language School Board told CBC News the same.
Deonandan also said schools should improve ventilation systems. In a statement to CBC News earlier this month, the Department of Education said it is working to get federal funding to improve ventilation in Island schools. The statement also said the department was not concerned about ventilation in schools "in respect to the spread of COVID." But Deonandan does not agree.
"There are some studies suggesting it does spread through ventilation systems," he said.
At the briefing last week, Dr. Morrison said school will hopefully be as close to normal as possible this fall. She also said precautions at schools, like masking and cohorts, will vary depending on risk levels in the community.
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