COVID-19: Parents in Saskatchewan keep children out of school as the Omicron variant spreads

The school is running again at Saskatchewan children this week. But a parent and virologist believe it is not safe.

“We have decided to wait at least a few days, possibly a week, week and a half before sending them back,” Alyson Kelvin said in an interview.

Kelvin and her husband keep their daughters Chloe, 12, and Hannah, 14, out of the classroom at least a little longer – because they are worried about the very transferable Omicron COVID-19 variant could increase after the holiday.

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“People went out, they had holiday gatherings where they could possibly pick up the virus,” Kelvin said.

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“This will return to society if we do not have systems in place to prevent it.”

Elementary and high school students say they will miss the class and their friends, but know they will be safer at home.

“I was a little nervous (to return),” Chloe said, “especially because, many children, they do not wear their mask properly or take them off at school.”

They have both experienced distance learning in the past and prefer to be in the classroom because they get to spend time with their friends and teachers.

“It’s not like the teacher just gives us the work (like when we’re distant),” Hannah said.

There are no provincial plans in place for distance learning, so they will trust both their teachers and friends to give them their assignments.

Kelvin’s decision was based on both her parental instincts and professional opinion.

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She is a virologist and vaccinologist at VIDO-Intervac, where she is helping to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

Most school-age children are now eligible for their shots and therefore less likely to pass on the virus. But it is not enough during a wave. Kelvin knows that vaccines are essential to end the pandemic, but they do not provide complete protection.

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“The vaccine was designed to reduce the severity of the disease and not necessarily to reduce infection,” Kelvin said.

This means that people who have been vaccinated can still be infected. Being vaccinated makes them less likely to experience serious illness leading to hospitalization, prolonged symptoms or death.

But she said the virus, and especially the Omicron variant, would still spread because children were only recently eligible for their shots, meaning not enough will be fully vaccinated and because some people have not yet been vaccinated.

This will lead to increased spread of the virus, as well as more cases, more serious cases and hospitalizations, ”said Kelvin.

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Although Omicron may be milder than Delta, it is still COVID-19 and may cause the infected to need extensive medical attention or prove fatal.

The family knows what can happen when someone becomes infected.

Kelvin’s youngest nephew received COVID in the spring and still suffers from vision problems.

Kelvin says it’s important to keep the intensive care unit ready to help those in need – including her daughter, Chloe, who has asthma.

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“We often have to take her in for treatment for her asthma, urgently in the emergency room. “If the hospital is overwhelmed, she may not be able to get this treatment when needed,” Kelvin said.

In terms of closing schools, Kelvin said the provincial government and school boards need to consider the caseload in local jurisdictions.

She also said authorities should implement frequent testing and encourage 3-layer masks, not the type of clothing.

Kelvin hopes that science-based strategies and a sense of community will keep her daughters safe so they do not have to risk their health for their education.

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