Schools are still set to open on January 3 and 4, despite a provincial warning Thursday that Saskatchewan expects a large increase in the case of Omicron variants.
The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF) says it is disappointed that the province did not announce any new restrictions to curb the spread of the highly contagious variant.
“This unfortunate decision directly affects the transmission in the schools and leaves the schools to fend for themselves,” STF tweeted.
Now the organization is asking the province to postpone the school openings for two days until January 5 and 6 to prepare for Omicron, says STF president Patrick Maze.
“We need a day or two to get ready for the cohort and to reorganize our schools,” Maze said.
We have been waiting to see what measures @SKGov would introduce to reduce Community transmission. Today’s press conference made it clear that there will be no new restrictions on community gatherings to prevent the spread of Omicron in our communities.
However, the provincial government says it will not delay starting school.
“Practicing preventative measures, such as wearing masks, hand washing, physical distance, staying home when they are sick and most importantly, being vaccinated, has allowed students to safely return to school learning,” wrote spokesman Matthew Glover in a statement to CBC News.
In another development, says Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s senior medical health officer, said Omicron would spread much more easily than the Delta variant, but that people would not get so sick.
“Omicron will not disappear in a week or two,” he said. “We’ll probably see an increase that we will try to keep as low as possible, and hopefully it will slow down in February, March.”
Shahab says that learning in class is very important.
“At this point, schools should reopen with all the measures they’ve had in place since last year. Throughout the Delta, we did really well in terms of schools being kept mostly open.”
There were no vaccinations for children aged five to 11 at that time.
“At the moment, I think we will open schools next week, stay open, support classroom learning, deal with cases and outbreaks, while recognizing that Omicron is more transferable and adjusting accordingly.”
Shahab says schools will be continuously evaluated as the fifth wave progresses.
“Schools should be the first to open and the last to close, and we need to do what we can to reduce infection in and around the community, and households should be fully vaccinated and if you are 18 years old and older when you are eligible … the booster. ”
Lack of ressources
STF’s Maze says the province’s lack of action is frustrating.
“Again, it seems our province is going in its own direction and it is clear for the fourth wave that did not result too well for us. We were a kind of national, even an international embarrassment with our handling of the fourth wave , and it put people’s lives at risk. “
Maze says that although the Omicron variant is not as severe with the fourth-wave Delta variant, virus transmission in schools threatens the ability of institutions to function.
“If people are sick, they are not able to come in and teach … and then it ends up affecting our ability to hold personal classes.”
Maze says the STF hoped the province would implement collection restrictions that other provinces have.
“Our schools are a function of the communities in which they operate. And so if the communities are basically told that they have to” just tighten up, then it’s going to hit, and it’s going to spread, and we’re just going to have to deal with to it. “It seems really irresponsible.”
Maze says schools do not have comprehensive substitute teacher lists if teachers are sick and need to stay home.
“And so I’m not sure how we are going to ensure the safety of the students if we are very briefly staffed. I think it’s going to cause a lot of havoc in our schools.”
On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Moe pointed to former federal funds that had been provided to school departments to deal with such deficiencies caused by the pandemic. But Maze said the money is long gone.
No money for substitute teachers
“Schools are already diving into reserves, and the reserves are exhausted,” Maze said. “We just heard from the largest school department in Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon Public, that it has exhausted its reserves, so there is no magic well they can go to to get money to hire substitute teachers.
“What was a little frustrating for me is how little out of touch with the education system our province is.”
In addition to trying to delay the reopening of schools by a few days, STF is also asking the province for upgraded N95 masks and quick test kits to be delivered directly to all school staff.
Health Minister Paul Merriman says 250,000 tests will be sent out to schools in early January.
“If the schools need more, we will definitely fill them up,” he said.