A Sackville writer who visited a Moncton school as a guest speaker last week says the New Brunswick government should do more to inform people about the continued risk of COVID-19 so they can make decisions to better manage their own risks.
Poet Shoshanna Wingate says she was shocked to find up to half of two classrooms out sick and up to a quarter of the students present sick with COVID-like symptoms.
They had a "hacking cough, tissue boxes on their desk," she said. "One kid was wrapped in a blanket, lying on the floor."
She tried to engage one student, who "just put his head down on his desk and kept it there."
"Another kid threw up and had to go home."
Wingate, who has an autoimmune disorder and whose husband has bad asthma, felt "panicked."
She said she realized she might be exposed to a couple of kids with COVID.
But she described the situation as an active outbreak, with only "one, maybe two" people masked — and not the sick ones.
She was surprised she wasn't notified in advance and given an opportunity to reschedule, she said, and posted about the experience on social media.
"Teacher didn't think to tell me. I am masked but exposed. Don't do this to visiting artists," she wrote.
"I overheard the teacher say to her colleague — I'm not feeling well either, but I've decided to power through it. She isn't masked.
"Teachers are under pressure. Parents are under pressure. We need to communicate better with each other."
The posts "kind of went viral," with her phone "dinging for days," she said.
Most people were "really supportive," saying "'It's horrifying,' and, you know, 'I'm so sorry that you had to go through this.'"
Others, however, asked, "'What did you expect? Do you not follow the news? Like, this is what's been happening. How did you not know about this?'"
'Daily reality' for teachers
Wingate, who has two children in school, said she does know COVID is "ripping through" schools. Most of her children's friends have already been infected, she said.
"This was clearly an outbreak in the class, though," she wrote. "If they had a flu outbreak in the class I would expect an email, too. I wanted choice."
She noted most artists are living below the poverty line, especially after being one of the sectors hardest-hit by the pandemic, and they're self-employed, so they don't get paid sick days or paid days off.
"So if I were to get sick, it would be a real financial hardship because I would lose weeks of income."
Wingate doesn't blame the teacher, she said.
"I understand that this is probably their daily reality. They probably didn't think to contact me because this is what they go through every day. It's normalized for them."
Seeks return of mandatory masking
Instead, she blames Premier Blaine Higgs, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell for "limiting our access to information and putting us all in a situation where we can't avoid active infections."
They've "convinced a large portion of the population that COVID is under control," and created the impression the only options are lockdowns or "this free-for-all," when, Wingate contends, a return to mandatory masking in schools would help.
"Having two masked people when one is infected, you know, there's a small chance that they're going to pass it on to the other person. But if one is masked and the other is not, the chance that they're going to pass that on goes way up."
Proper filtration in schools and opening windows could also help, she said.
"But they've completely twisted the messaging here into, you know, you either have this, like, nobody masks in schools and we just let it rip, or everybody goes into lockdown again. And I mean, who wants that? It took a really heavy toll on all of us emotionally."
The premier's office and the Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.