The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) is lobbying the provincial government to keep students at home for two weeks after the Easter break between April 2 and April 9.
The STF’s request would see students learning from home between April 12 through to April 23.
The union is concerned about the spread of COVID-19 across the province, which has seen the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first found in the United Kingdom, shut down in-class learning for Regina and Moose Jaw schools.
“We are seeing an increase of cases throughout our province,” said STF president Patrick Maze in a press release.
“Communities across Saskatchewan are interconnected. We have an opportunity to act before more communities experience what Regina and Moose Jaw are dealing with.”
The STF noted school divisions have declared 90 outbreaks from March 15 to 28, with 78 of those taking place over the final eight days of that period.
Coping with another round of virtual learning in the Regina area
In Saskatoon, three schools announced they’re looking into possible variant cases on March 30.
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) said an individual at Bethlehem Catholic High School has tested positive for a possible variant of concern (VoC) and that cohort has moved to remote learning.
Saskatoon Public Schools declared outbreaks at Brevoort Park School and Tommy Douglas Collegiate, noting recent cases are probable VoCs.
A press release from the division said the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) encourages all students and staff at the schools to be tested for COVID-19.
Saskatchewan Teachers Federation on need for testing amid variants
Both divisions added they work closely with the SHA and local medical health officer to decide which steps to take when addressing outbreaks and COVID-19 cases.
“While we have had some variant cases identified in our schools, our school division has not seen a significant increase in cases like other areas of the province. However, we remain vigilant to ensure our safety protocols continue to be followed in schools, which we know is vital to reducing transmission of the virus,” Saskatoon Public Schools said in an emailed response to Global News.
“We see how VoCs can quickly increase the number of cases in other parts of the world, country and province, and we realize Saskatoon and our schools are not immune to the possibility of them becoming more prevalent here,” GSCS said in an email.
“We meet regularly with our local medical health officer and are reminded that the protocols we have in place have created many layers of protection to mitigate and reduce risk.”
Both divisions added schools in the city haven’t seen the rise in cases like other communities in the province.
The B.1.1.7 variant makes up 98 per cent of the VoC cases that have been identified in the province.
Doctor Nazeem Muhajarine said initial data is being released on how transmissible the variant can spread from children.
He said preliminary data from England shows anyone under the age of 18 with the U.K. variant has a 30-per cent higher chance of passing COVID-19 onto their close contacts compared to the original virus.
The University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist added schools need to take stricter action, like moving entire schools to remote learning, to curb transmission, considering how much more easily it spreads.
“I think that it is probably not enough just to move the cohort. I would actually err on the side of more caution rather than just enough caution,” Muhajarine said.
The health authority noted VoC case and contact management requires thorough follow-up for all cases and contacts of people linked with that case.
“With rising variants of concern numbers, a public health official, based on the circumstances of the confirmed case, may make additional requirements to help reduce transmission,” read a statement from the SHA.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.