Quebec premier mulls temporarily closing schools this winter to reduce spread of COVID-19

·3 min read
Quebec premier mulls temporarily closing schools this winter to reduce spread of COVID-19
Quebec premier mulls temporarily closing schools this winter to reduce spread of COVID-19

Quebec Premier François Legault says schools might have to close this winter, extending the holiday break in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Schools and workplaces have the highest rates of transmission, Legault said during his Thursday news briefing.

The premier said 1,174 classes are currently shut down due to positive cases, 324 of those in the last two days alone. It is clear, he said, that schools are a vector for the virus in the province.

Closing schools in advance of the December holiday break, or extending the break after the holidays, may be a way to give the province a better shot at stopping the second wave.

That could then mean extending the school year into the summer — as far as July, he said. He said the government has been in discussion with unions about this possibility as it would affect teachers and staff as well.

"Schools are a place of transmission," said Legault.

"Children have already lost many days of schools last spring, but we have to consider all our options to break the wave."

Closure would be 'well-defined period'

Legault made it clear that this is still up for discussion. It is a last-resort solution, he said, and no decision has been made.

With the second wave rolling around the globe and causing major outbreaks, he said the government must weigh all its options to prevent the situation from getting out of control.

"We have to consider the possibility of closing schools for a very specific time — a well-defined period," Legault said.

"We see that our numbers are starting to increase. We need to protect our health system and we need to do that in order to be able to treat everyone and save lives."

WATCH | Premier Legault says schools are source of transmission:

Quebec reported 1,365 new cases of COVID-19 and 42 more deaths on Thursday. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 119,894 confirmed cases and 6,557 people have died. There are 583 people in hospital (an increase of 10), including 86 in intensive care (an increase of two).

"Closing schools for a month, including the holidays, maybe extended a bit more or less, that is what we are envisioning right now," Legault said. "Nothing has been decided."

The premier said officials had been mulling over a temporary school closure privately and he had not planned on going public yet. He said it was only after information was leaked to the media that he opted to speak about it during the news briefing.

Legault declined to say whether he is considering closing businesses again as well.

At the National Assembly on Thursday morning, the opposition grilled the Legault government on what they said is a lack of action on equipping schools with proper ventilation and filtration systems.

Legault said ventilation is not to blame for the high transmission rates in schools, according to public health officials. However, he said, public health has been ordered to examine the issue once again.

Public health prof supports school closure

Benoît Mâsse, a professor of public health at the Université de Montréal, said an extended school closure over the holidays makes sense.

With many restrictions already in place, he said, workplaces and schools are the only things left that can be closed to reduce contacts.

WATCH | Quebec considers closing schools to reduce spread of virus:

"The idea is to start the winter session with the virus under control," he said. "The worst-case scenario would be that at the restart of school in January is an out-of-control pandemic."

Mâsse said an extended spring break may also be necessary to once again lower the number of daily cases for the final stretch of the school year.

Meanwhile, looking at the situation in the United States and Europe, Legault said he is concerned about where things are headed in the province.

"We have a very, very strong second wave worldwide and we have a second battle to fight," Legault said. "The next few weeks will be critical. I need the support of all Quebecers."