Absentee rates were above average last month, as flue season began to take hold and hospitals started reporting higher numbers of children visiting emergency rooms for influenza and other respiratory viruses.
According to the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, the absentee rate for November was 14.3 per cent — higher than any November in the previous three school years.
That equals about 9,000 students missing school on a given day last month. The district says the number was higher in the last week of November, driving up the overall average for the month.
"November saw an increase in absentee rates for students as we move into the cold and flu season," said a district spokesperson. "This is not unusual, but numbers this year have increased over previous years."
The absentee rate among teachers, about six per cent, has also been given a boost by the cold and flu season.
Numbers for the first week of December are not yet available, but anecdotal evidence from teachers and students point to attendance problems continuing to worsen.
Kate Winnett, a Grade 8 student at Villa Nova Junior High, said her class of 23 has been cut in half this week.
"There's a lot of people out today. I asked my friends and there was only 12 people in [class]," she said Wednesday, while she herself was home sick. "There's been small class numbers for my class for the last week or so."
Kate is feeling OK — thanks to her dad stocking up on cold and flu medicine during a recent trip to the U.K. — but said her friends tell her class is strange with so many people out sick.
"They say that it's kind of weird not having everybody in there, and when we do a lot of group projects it's weird because one person is there one day, but not the next day."
Mandatory masking not on the table
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday there's no plan to return to mandatory masks in schools.
Fitzgerald said any orders from her office would require a declaration of a public health emergency, which is not in the cards right now.
But this particular cold and flu season is hitting harder than recent years, with 19 people already hospitalized and two deaths reported.
Fitzgerald said many hospitalizations and hospital visits have been from children. She recommended parents get their kids vaccinated against influenza to cut down on transmission and severity of illness. The vaccination rate for children under five is just below 10 per cent, and 8.8 per cent for people between ages five and 19.