Saskatchewan Health Authority doctor, medical groups calls for masking, restrictions in schools

·3 min read
An official with the Saskatchewan Health Authority is calling on school divisions in the province to have the same restrictions and masking rules as last year.  (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters - image credit)
An official with the Saskatchewan Health Authority is calling on school divisions in the province to have the same restrictions and masking rules as last year. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters - image credit)

Saskatchewan once again has more than 1,000 known active COVID-19 cases, a sharp increase from 448 at the start of August.

This has an official with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) calling for restrictions in schools as students head back in two weeks.

"The school setting is grounds for spread if measures aren't in place, that many people in close proximity," said Dr. Kevin Wasko, physician executive for integrated rural health with the SHA, on CBC Saskatchewan's The Morning Edition.

"Regular handwashing in place and hand sanitizer spacing within the classrooms, masking, all of those measures are important. And if they're not in place, there will be greater spread."

Wasko said that without those regulations, young people can get very sick from the Delta variant of COVID-19. Delta is more transmissible than other strains.

LISTEN | Dr. Kevin Wasko spoke with Stefani Langenegger on The Morning Edition

The provincial government said COVID-19 restrictions will no longer be in place for the 2021-22 school year, as public health officials have determined it's safe for schools to resume traditional in-class learning without physical distancing or masking.

The province said high community vaccine uptake is key to protecting children ineligible for a COVID vaccine. It said children under 12 aren't "independently mobile," so if the vaccine rate is high in parents, families and educators, they are indirectly protected.

The plan can change if there's a change in risk or epidemiology, the province said. At a news conference on Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe encouraged people to get vaccinated and said there may be more regulations for children under 12 announced next week.

Wasko said school divisions, which are responsible for setting their own rules, need to work with their local medical officers to decide plans.

"I really don't see any reason why the same measures that were in place last year shouldn't be in place this year," Wasko said.

Sask. medical groups join call for school restrictions

The Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) and Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians (SCFP) are also calling for school divisions to reinstate mandatory masking, among other public health measures.

"We are asking school divisions to enact measures that will mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in
their schools, especially as the highly contagious delta variant spreads in the province," said Dr. Eben Strydom, president of the SMA, in a news release.

"We want students to return to schools and have a rich learning experience, but schools must be safe for that to happen. The safety of our children is our paramount concern."

He said physicians have several concerns as school divisions put their back-to-school plans together, including rising COVID-19 numbers, not enough vaccinated children who are 12 years of age and older, and children 12 and under not being eligible for a vaccine.

Strydom, a family physician in Melfort, Sask., said that 18 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan during July occurred in children under 12.

The SCFP is also urging anyone with concerns about vaccines to talk to their primary health-care provider.

Other measures SMA and SCFP want school divisions to consider include:

  • Mandating full vaccination for everyone 12 and older — including students and staff, along with parents or guardians of school-aged children.

  • Organizing mobile vaccination clinics in schools.

  • Requiring sick kids and adults to stay home.

  • Report positive cases to parents and other relevant contacts.

  • Making hand sanitizing stations readily available.

  • Maintaining social distancing when possible.

  • Maintaining HVAC systems regularly.

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