Students at local high schools may now remove their masks when sitting in class following a decision by the Quebec government to relax COVID-19 measures for older students. Masks will continue to be worn on school buses and in common areas.
The move has been questioned by infectious-disease specialists and epidemiologists as well as those in the teaching profession who might prefer a more cautious approach, given that case numbers are rising across the province and we are hearing more talk of a building fifth wave. According to Rob Buttars, the director general for the New Frontiers School Board (NFSB), the decision was made “based on the relatively high vaccination rates amongst this age group (12- to 17-year-olds), and school board employees.”
Masks are still required in the classroom at the elementary level, where the vast majority of students remains unvaccinated. Buttars says the NFSB has been asked to begin preparing for “vaccine field trips” as early as December. A decision by Health Canada on the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine is expected to be announced either this week or next, and vaccination would start soon after. The vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds was approved recently by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.
A survey was sent home recently to the parents of NFSB students to determine whether parents of young children would be interested in the “field trip” option, or would rather bring them to be vaccinated themselves. “These ‘field trips’ were quite successful when we ran them in the summer for our high school students,” says Buttars.
Preventive gargle tests
A new tool has been added to the roster for local elementary schools to keep students healthy and in class. Students and staff without symptoms, but who have been exposed to an individual with a confirmed diagnosis, will now be tested within the school using gargle tests. “These tests are to be administered when a rapid test produces a positive result,” explains Buttars. “The gargle tests would then be administered to that student’s classmates, providing they have signed parental consent forms,” he says.
The logic behind preventive gargle tests is that they would reduce absenteeism associated with the necessary travel to designated testing sites. Parents are asked to continue to keep their children at home if they have any symptoms. Testing within the schools is strictly to be used in the event a student begins to show symptoms during the school day.
Booster shots now available
The government has launched a campaign to provide a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to elderly and at-risk populations within the province. A booster shot is now being advised for those in residential and long-term care centres and private seniors’ residences, as well as individuals on dialysis or with a weakened immune system, and anyone above the age of 80 living on their own. It is also now recommended that those who received the Janssen, AstraZeneca or Covishield vaccines roll up their sleeves once more for a booster.