REGINA — The Sask. NDP are continuing to make calls to the provincial government to address COVID-19 issues in the province, this time with a push to address the transmission rate among children in schools.
Education critic Carla Beck said during a press conference that the NDP is calling on the Minister of Education to take action to help aid school divisions in their efforts to protect children from transmission, by providing more funding and resources.
Data shared at a physician’s town hall meeting on Oct. 21 showed that Saskatchewan currently has the highest rate of COVID-related pediatric admissions to acute care, with 17 children currently in hospital. Of this group, 15 are aged 12 and under and currently not eligible to be vaccinated.
From Sept. 1 until Oct. 15, Saskatchewan recorded a total of 4,592 positive cases in individuals under the age of 18, with 3,250 of those cases in those aged under 12.
More than 220 cases have been reported in Saskatchewan schools in the last two weeks, said Beck, with outbreaks declared in more than 70 schools.
“It's clear that they're not safe and that despite the efforts by school boards and staff, transmission is occurring in our schools,” said Beck.
Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said earlier this week that only approximately 23 per cent of transmission in youth is taking place in the school setting. The vast majority of case exposure in youth is still linked to household or community interaction, he said.
Today, during a provincial briefing, Shahab said that most schools are reporting just one or two cases, and not big numbered outbreaks.
"I have not seen dozens of cases in schools or large outbreaks in schools, and that speaks to the layers of protection that schools learned how to apply last year, and are applying now," said Shahab.
Beck said today’s call is primarily looking for a commitment from Education Minister Dustin Duncan to not undertake the annual mid-term funding cuts this year, typically done in the fall after enrolment numbers are confirmed.
Many schools are seeing enrolment lower than projections, she continued, with at least one-quarter of divisions with numbers smaller than the previous year’s.
“In no world would it be acceptable to clawback funding from schools in a pandemic,” said Beck.
There will also be mounting pressure to fund an incoming vaccination program once children aged 5 to 11 years old are cleared by Health Canada to receive immunization — a bill that Beck said school divisions shouldn’t have to foot.
“We want a commitment that no school division will have to be out of their existing budgets to pay for those vaccine clinics for any extra staffing that's required,” said Beck.
Schools have also been navigating breakthrough infections in vaccinated staff, contact tracing pressures and unclear direction on isolation procedures, said Beck.
An increase in funding from the ministry is needed, according to the opposition, to help divisions address these issues and protect students more thoroughly. This includes the provision of PPE materials and testing kits, or upgrades to ventilation in buildings.
“We want to ensure that divisions are drawing from education dollars to provide that protection,” said Beck.
She also said many school divisions are also saying they are receiving little to no clear direction from the government regarding safety thresholds, now that the Response Planning Team has been disbanded.
The ministry needs to create a clear threshold plan for school divisions, said Beck, to use when making decisions like making the shift to online learning.
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