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Posts Tagged ‘IWK Pediatricians’

MasksSchoolsBBC

The latest COVID-19 variant is “spreading like wildfire” in and around schools by all accounts. With daily case counts reaching 100,000 in Ontario, teachers and parents, with the support of Toronto infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, are speaking out demanding that mask mandates be re-instated and similar movements are afoot in New Brunswick and all other jurisdictions without such mandates.

“COVID-19 is not over” is the rallying cry as teachers and education workers report record student and staff absenteeism – and are now openly challenging public health authorities to respond to mushrooming case counts.  Masking up in schools has become a strange kind of proxy for public trust in medical science and our public health officials. That’s the underlying but fundamental public policy issue, two years into the never-ending pandemic.

The counsel of chief medical officers of health, once considered unbiased, Manitoba physician Jillian Horton aptly pointed out, is now  being challenged as simply parroting the latest gyrations of politicians.  It hasn’t helped that the CMOHs, in Ontario and elsewhere, went relatively quiet over the past month.

One of the clearest statements came from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA).  The province’s third largest teachers’ union appealed to the province on April 8, 2022 to undo the decision to end masking in all schools on March 21 because teacher and student absences due to COVID-19 are causing “whiplash disruptions to the learning environment.”

Surging case counts and high absenteeism are causing havoc in  many school districts, including the London-based Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) and in Scarborough, where one Catholic elementary school of 540 students averaged over 100 student absences a day last week. Similar absentee rates have been registered in mask-mandate-free New Brunswick schools

Lifting mandates with students and staff returning from March break has precipitated a raging controversy, especially in New Brunswick. With the post-March break COVID-19 surge breaking out, the latest Omicron BA.2 variant running rampant and restrictions lifting, Education Minister Dominic Cardy balked at reinstituting masks in schools. “Leave it up to the experts” was his repeated response.

Concerned parents and worried teachers, seeing first-hand evidence of mounting case counts, organized a Change.org petition in early March and began speaking-out, demanding the return of masks and fuller disclosure of actual case counts and rates of absenteeism. The “Protect our Province” (PoP) petition for masks in schools appeared in early March and immediately attracted some 700 signatures Post-March break fears drove the number of signatories up to 1,300 by March 17 and stood at 1,514 in early April.

In the first week of April, a group of 19 pediatricians answered the Minister’s call for expert opinion. “We do not believe we are out of the woods yet with the COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote in an open letter to Minister Cardy, Premier Blaine Higgs, Chief Public Health Officer Jennifer Russell, and Health Minister Dorothy Shephard.

New Brunswick’ pediatricians confirmed that COVID-19 was an airborne virus, masking and vaccinations were the best protections against infection, and it was time to bring back masking for the rest of the school year. That was to no avail because Minister Cardy kept insisting it was up to public health and Dr. Russell weighed-in holding firm on resisting a mask mandate in schools.

While New Brunswick politicians passed the ‘hot potato’ back and forth, COVID-19 case counts were ripping through the whole Atlantic region. At the time Atlantic Canada had the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in Canada.

On April 2, the Canada Health Agency reported that Prince Edward Island ranked first among the provinces and territories with 350.6 daily cases per week in the final week of March, registering 2,216.6 average daily cases per million.  New Brunswick ranked fifth with 567.0 average daily cases per million, a higher rate of infection than Quebec and Ontario.

When the case counts were released, New Brunswick was also an outlier. Students in Nova Scotia were still required to wear masks and New Brunswick was more restrictive in providing access to testing. In N.B., PCR testing was only available to those over 50-years-of-age, or under two years, or those deemed to be vulnerable or at higher risk.

MasksSchools

Entering our third year of the pandemic, provincial public health officers are committed to keeping schools open for the mental health and well-being of children, but, beyond that, they are all over the map, especially on disclosure of case counts, access to testing, and precautionary measures.

Requiring masks to be worn indoors in schools is a perfect example. On the same day that Prince Edward Island’s medical officer Heather Morrison announced masking in P.E.I. schools would continue, her New Brunswick counterpart Dr. Russell held a media briefing to announce the opposite. While strongly encouraging students and staff to mask-up on their own, Russell claimed that “vaccination is actually more important” at this point in the pandemic.

Navigating our way out of the pandemic is proving to be an uncertain journey full of contradictions.  Following the wisdom of the “experts” in government appears to mean different things from one province to another. It’s made more perplexing when leading pediatricians, most notably Dr. Andrew Lynk and his team at Halifax’s IWK Children’s Hospital, change their positions in response to surges in infections affecting children. That sounds like following the science.

If determining whether mask mandates are necessary is truly based upon medical science evidence-based criteria, one might expect more consistency right now.  What is a medical necessity for some, is a restriction on freedom for others.  When public health experts disagree, someone has to make a decision. Intervening to settle the matter opens the door to further criticism from skeptics hyper-sensitive to any sign of the politicization public health decisions.

What has happened to public trust in our provincial public health officers? With the latest COVID-19 variant ripping through schools and communities, why is there resistance to reinstituting mask mandates in schools?  Is the whole question of mask mandates become a proxy for trust in public health authorities?

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