A Saskatoon pediatrician who is concerned about the province's rising number of COVID-19 cases says she's glad the province recently ordered students to self-isolate if they've been exposed to the illness in their household.
Students who were exposed to COVID-19 at school, but display no symptoms, are exempted from self-isolation for the purpose of going to school.
However, under changes in a Sept. 30 public health order, students must now isolate at home for two weeks if they were exposed to COVID-19 at home.
"Many of us have been agitating for that order because we know that delta is an infectious variant" of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, said Dr. Ayisha Kurji.
"We know this is different than last year and we know that more and more kids are getting infected with COVID. You can see it in our numbers daily."
Kurji said the situation in schools is a reflection of what is happening in society at large.
Saskatoon a hot spot
As of Thursday, there are 4,564 active COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan. Saskatoon is the province's hot spot, with 1,029 active cases, according to the province's online COVID-19 dashboard.
"We have to tackle what's going on in our community and we know that in Saskatchewan we have some of the highest rates in Canada for infections, for people in hospitals, people in the ICU," Kurji said.
There are 348 people with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan hospitals as of Thursday, including 78 in intensive care units, according to the most recent numbers available.
"We are overwhelmed with COVID, and for us to tackle this we need to tackle it at a community level, not just in the schools," Kurji said.
"That means limiting our gatherings, making sure we are wearing a mask everywhere. It means washing our hands, distancing and, of course, if you can get vaccinated, get vaccinated."
The government is also urging people to get vaccinated, and is encouraging testing. On Tuesday, the province began distributing rapid COVID-19 testing kits for parents to pick up at schools. Demand has been so high, some schools have already run out of supplies.
The province's original public health order said the self-isolation exemption for students exposed to COVID-19 at home was intended to "reduce the societal burden associated with parental or guardian absence from work and to ensure children can continue in-person learning."
But that brought pushback from parents, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and doctors like Kurji.
The safety of the children should come first, she said.
"It's all about keeping the kids safe, of course understanding that there is a burden on the family," Kurji said. "Having said that, if you have COVID in your house, you shouldn't be going to work anyway because you should be at home isolated."
Matthew Glover, a media relations spokesperson for the province, defended the government's position.
"This year's approach is based on prioritizing the importance of maintaining in-class learning and high vaccination rates of community members, staff and students who are 12+," Glover said.