Return-to-school decisions still not so clearcut because of COVID cases

·4 min read
Emily Silva, a quadriplegic, has a weaker respiratory system than others. She's worried back to school season could bring COVID-19 along with it. (Supplied by Emily Silva - image credit)
Emily Silva, a quadriplegic, has a weaker respiratory system than others. She's worried back to school season could bring COVID-19 along with it. (Supplied by Emily Silva - image credit)

As a woman with quadriplegia, Emily Silva says her lungs aren't as strong as other people's.

Her youngest daughter will head into her first year of high school this fall. Silva doesn't want to keep her home and have her miss out on forming important social connections, although she can't help but worry about what will happen if COVID-19 finds its way into their home.

Silva and her family live in Woodstock. They're careful; they don't go out to eat, and they still wear masks. In 2020, long before children could get vaccinated, Silva pulled her youngest daughter out of school, sending her back in the 2021-22 year after she'd been vaccinated.

Two years later, and even with vaccines, Silva once again feels anxious about sending her daughter to school, especially without having more updated information from the province about COVID-19 cases and what parents should expect for the school year ahead.

"I'm pretty apprehensive," she said. "There seems to be absolutely no precautions."

Silva said she doesn't expect the province to bring back a mask mandate, but she'd like more information about what back to school is going to be like. Some precautions could include teachers keeping a box of masks on hand for students who have symptoms, or providing rapid tests for kids who feel sick.

About 20% of kids 12 to 19 have had 3rd dose

She'd also like to know what vaccination statistics are like for kids in her daughter's age group, and especially third dose numbers. A vaccination campaign before school starts would also help put her mind at ease, she said.

"We don't have information or tools to judge our risk or reduce our risk," she said.

The Department of Education told CBC News that unless Public Health implements new policies, students will return to school in September the way they left them in June.

The department also said that 87.3 per cent of children aged 12 to 19 years had their first dose as of July 19, while 81.9 per cent had their second dose.

The department also said that 87.3 per cent of children aged 12 to 19 years had their first dose as of July 19, while 81.9 per cent had their second dose.

The spokesperson said 56.7 per cent of children aged five to 11 years had their first dose as of July 19, while 40.1 per cent have had their second dose.

Supplied by Emily Silva
Supplied by Emily Silva

Better ventilation

The province did promise to install new ventilation systems in 11 schools this year. According to the Department of Education, 10 of those projects are now underway, while one has been delayed until next year.

Silva feels frustrated because, as a person who's already spent years feeling restricted because of being in a wheelchair, she feels she's being restricted all over again; only this time, no one cares.

When the pandemic first started, Silva said, it felt like everyone was supportive of each other. Now restrictions are gone, but as someone who's at higher risk of suffering severe consequences of the virus and with cases once again on the rise, Silva wishes there was more acknowledgement that COVID-19 is still here.

"It feels like a lot of people think it's just no big deal," she said.

She said she knows people have to learn to live with the virus, but she pointed out she doesn't have enough information from the province to do that. Learning to live with COVID-19 is different for some people than others, depending on level of the vulnerability.

"All parents should be concerned about the effects of COVID infection on their children, especially repeated ones, when we do not know the long-term effects yet."

Not knowing COVID-19's long-term effects is also on the mind of Rachel Kaleva, a mother of two in Fredericton.

Supplied by Rachel Kaleva
Supplied by Rachel Kaleva

In the spring, she spoke with CBC News about how she decided to home-school her oldest child after schools dropped the mask mandate.

"That was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak," she said.

Looking toward September, she's decided to continue home-schooling. Her oldest child is fully vaccinated, and her youngest is now eligible to get vaccinated, but Kaleva's biggest concern is "long-haul COVID-19."

Catching COVID-19 multiple times and having persistent symptoms is worrying, Kaleva said, especially without knowing what the long-term effects will be.

"I know, we can't remove the risks, but we're just trying to mitigate them the best we can," she said.

"Until we actually move to a real endemic stage, where we know how to live with this more safely than what we're doing right now, I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around sending my kids back to public school or to daycare."

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