With daily COVID-19 case counts still in the hundreds, some parents on P.E.I. have mixed feelings about sending their kids back to school Monday.
After weeks of online learning, the province announced Wednesday that schools would reopen to students. Details of the back-to-school plan were announced Thursday.
Kelsey Creed, a parent of a child in Grade 3 at Spring Park Elementary, said she's relieved schools are finally set to re-open.
"We're happy to get back in the proper routine of things," she said. "She's happy to be with all her friends."
Jeff Brine, who has kids in grades two and five, said he's still a bit anxious given that Omicron is still spreading on P.E.I., but it won't stop him from sending his kids to school.
"At this point, I think the mental state of our kids is outweighing where the variant is. So I'm very happy they're going to school," he said.
Some parents like Justin Dowell say they plan to keep their kids home a little longer.
Dowell said his son is too young to be vaccinated and he's worried about his daughter bringing COVID home to him, or spreading it to her classmates.
At this point, I think the mental state of our kids is outweighing where the variant is. — Jeff Brine
"It is a difficult decision because I want her to be able to go to school, and to experience the joy of friendship," he said, "but I also would never want her to be in a position where one of those kids from her class goes home and never comes back to school again."
Dr. Stephen Freedman, a pediatric doctor and child health researcher, said he understands the concern from parents. But he points out the general risk to kids who get COVID-19, even if they're unvaccinated or have other health issues, is extremely low.
Low hospitalization rate for kids
He estimates that, at most, about one in 1,000 children with COVID-19 require hospitalization, and one in 20,000 are admitted to the ICU.
"There seems to be a slight increased risk than a typical cold, let's put it that way. But the risks are very very small in children," he said. "But what we have seen is that the isolation risk is very tangible and very large."
Spring Park principal Terry MacIsaac agrees. He's worried more about the risks of kids staying home.
"I think it's important that we have the students back. There's the social aspect where the kids are missing each other, they're not getting that interaction that they normally do," he said. "We've done everything we possibly can. This is something that's not just in school, it's in our environment. So we have to figure out how we can deal with it and move on."
Elaine Barnes said for her it's not just about the risk to her son if he goes back to school — her elderly parents live at home with them, and her mom is considered immunocompromised.
"With seniors that are immunocompromised, that risk is that much higher, even if they have three vaccines," she said. "So you still have to balance that risk responsibility to your family and your child for getting that education that they need."
She'd like to see some option for her child to keep doing online learning, without having to fully commit to homeschooling.
The Public Schools Branch on Thursday said it has no plans to offer that to families.