Navigating last-minute school closures has been a stressful and anxiety-inducing task for many New Brunswick parents.
"It's a lot of stress on parents," said Sarah MacDonald, a mother of two school-age children in Moncton. "We can't put it on the calendar, we can't plan ahead."
Although MacDonald has arranged care for her younger daughter on days she's had to stay home, she said not all parents are as lucky.
More than a quarter of schools in New Brunswick have had COVID-19 cases, with the Moncton region being hardest hit by closures. Parents are usually notified the day before about an upcoming school closure.
MacDonald said both of her daughters have had to stay home due to COVID-19 cases at their schools. Her daughter in Grade 9 has missed at least eight days of in-person learning.
"She wants to be able to make friendships and have those high school memories she's heard her dad and I talk about," said MacDonald.
Allison Butcher, a preschool teacher in Sackville, said her daughter has also been disappointed with school closures.
"She's missing out on things that she was hoping would happen that day, or missing her friends," she said.
In addition to the disappointment over missing school, Butcher said COVID outbreaks at Tantramar Regional High School have left her worried about her daughter's risk of contracting the coronavirus. This year, Butcher received an email that her daughter was a close contact of a positive case.
"I know she's vaccinated. I know we'll be fine. But when you get the email, it's hard not to get a little scared," said Butcher.
Moncton and Sacvkille are both subject to the two-week "circuit breaker" restrictions that took effect on Friday. As part of the restrictions, extra-curricular activities for students age 12 and under will be placed on pause. With COVID-19 cases in Sackville being a growing concern for many members of the community, Butcher said getting cases under control has to be the priority.
"We just spent Thanksgiving weekend not seeing loved ones," she said. "I don't want Christmas to be that way too. I want us to do whatever we need to do now to make sure we get a handle on things."
Rapid testing coming to schools on Tuesday
Rapid tests will be distributed to unvaccinated students who are a close contact of a positive case starting Tuesday. The program is meant to help schools minimize school closures.
Mandi Lawson, a Moncton parent who has an 11-year-old son ineligible to be vaccinated, says contact tracing took five days to be completed at her son's school. Lawson is hopeful that the introduction of rapid tests will help families avoid the backlog at COVID-19 testing centres.
However, she wishes they were accessible to more students.
"I wish it wasn't just for the close contacts," said Lawson. "I think I would definitely have more peace of mind having access to those tests on an operational day."
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said the program may expand its eligibility in the future.
"As things evolve, this program could evolve as well," she said.