As Sask. changes rules on reporting positive COVID-19 cases to schools, parents feel 'thrown to the wolves'

·5 min read
Some parents, especially with those who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, say they have grave concerns about the province's shift in policy. (CBC News - image credit)
Some parents, especially with those who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, say they have grave concerns about the province's shift in policy. (CBC News - image credit)

As the Saskatchewan government pivots away from having parents report positive COVID-19 tests to their children's schools, some parents they're left feeling in the dark about the state of the pandemic in the province.

The change in policy announced on Thursday means no more contact tracing in schools and the end of daily reporting to parents.

Prior to the announcement, parents were told to report positive rapid tests to their school administrators.

The administrators would then pass that information along to other parents, informing them about classroom cases or situations where their child may have been a close contact while at school. That is no longer happening.

Decision time

Many parents said they used the information to decide whether to send their children to school.

For Jessalyn Murphy, a mother to a four-year-old daughter who is unable to get vaccinated and a five-year-old son with Type 1 Diabetes, the provincial government's decision was the final straw.

"It seems like we've been thrown to the wolves. I don't know what we're going to do for next week," Murphy told CBC News in a phone interview.

Because of his health condition, Murphy's five-year-old is considered especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

As a result, she's kept him out of his kindergarten class since school resumed earlier this month in hopes of avoiding the ongoing Omicron surge in Saskatchewan.

Murphy said she's been using the daily notifications she gets about cases of COVID-19 at the school to assess whether its safe to send her son back into class.

"Now they've taken away the only tool we had to assess that risk, by removing the requirement to report positive cases," she said.

"So now we have no way to know if there may be cases in the classroom."

STF not looking at strike

The news has received a mixed reaction from the organization representing more than 13,500 education workers across the province.

Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF), said that some of the organization's members are frustrated by the decision.

Other members are welcoming the news as it mean's they'll no longer be doing hours of contact tracing.

But it also means a lack of information for teachers and parents going forward.

"Everybody ends up going into this blindfolded and not understanding the risks and not having the ability to make good judgment or make good decisions based on those risks," Maze said.

At this time, striking is not on the table for the STF in response to the policy shift.

Frustration and confusion

Murphy isn't the only parent concerned by the provincial government's decision to change how cases in schools are reported.

CBC News
CBC News

In Saskatoon, Sheldon Alderton and his daughter are currently at home as they recover from COVID-19.

Alderton said he's unsure what the future looks like without any guidance on the spread of COVID-19.

"My daughter is home right now with COVID. We both unfortunately have it, so she's not going to school for a while. Do I really want to send her back afterwards, If I don't know what the situation is? Like, why would I do that?" he said.

The calculations that Alderton have made in response to COVID-19 are even further complicated by the shared custody he has of his daughter with his former partner.

"I don't want my daughter to get sick at my house and then go over to her mom's and get everybody else sick," he said.

Risk assesment

Health Minister Paul Merriman said the change in policy is a move toward living with the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Merriman said on Thursday it is now up to everyone to make their own "personal risk assessment."

Experts disagree.

Dr. Christine Preschken is a professor at the University of Manitoba's departments of medicine and community health services.

"That is a difficult thing for me to hear because my patients, as immune compromised individuals with serious chronic diseases, don't have that ability," she said during a COVID-19 briefing put on by Protect Our Province.

"Their risk calculations have been live in a bubble and and rightly so."

Among those who face a difficult decision is Shannon Harnett-Smith.

Both Harnett-Smith and her daughter have vascular conditions that put them at severe if they were to contract COVID-19.

Just like Murphy and Alderton, Harnett-Smith used the daily releases on COVID-19 cases at schools to gauge the risk in allowing her other son to go to class, even if she had to keep her daughter home.

CBC News
CBC News

She told CBC News she'll likely have to pull her children from school.

"We have followed all of the public health guidelines we have. We limited our bubbles. We've done everything to the letter just waiting for that light at the end of the tunnel. And now that light is just it's just a big fat up yours, I guess," she said.

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Murphy said she wants to have her son in his class learning alongside other students, but that she's been left with no choice but to keep him home.

"The messaging from the province and the schools is contradictory. They're saying that the school is safe, but then we're hearing that kids are getting sick and the cases seem to be growing every week," Murphy said.

Alderton agreed and said he's been left with more questions than answers.

"It kind of feels like we're being forced into making decisions that we probably wouldn't have made beforehand. How do you make a decision if you have no information? You just kind of run by the seat of your pants, right?," Alderton said.

"I don't know if that's a great way to decide what your kids should be doing in the future or the safety of your children."

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