A bunch of no-win propositions - Denny Scott editorial
For the better part of two full years, as a county, a province and a country we’ve watched as the world has faced increasingly more difficult situations as part of the COVID-19 pandemic, and watched and weighed the decisions of experts and politicians throughout that time and the only certainty, looking back on it all, is that there were no easy decisions.
Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have both found themselves targeted by their opponents for following the science and targeted for not following the science closely enough (though the former far more often than the latter).
All in all, there have been a lot of no-win propositions for our leaders. However, as we approach yet another tough decision - whether students should be physically back in class - I’m struck by the fact that, from my spot here in the den, this should be one of the easiest decisions of the pandemic: No, children should not be in class right now.
I know I’m fortunate in that I can work from home. My family is lucky because I can make sure my daughter is in her online classes nurturing her budding reading, writing, music and math skills and I’m thankful for that. However, even if that weren’t the case, even if we had to dig into our savings or credit to get through it, I would be making the same argument. It doesn’t make sense to send students back and that’s from every single standpoint except the one about student development and mental health.
Mental health and development are important, but they aren’t a bulwark against infection. All my childhood I was told, “You’ll be fine, kids are resilient” whenever I faced problems and, being a somewhat-well-adjusted individual, I’m tempted to say there is some wisdom in that. Students will recover and will make up lost ground when they return to school. However, they may not recover from the “long COVID-19” issues if they do happen to contract the virus. Beyond that, we’re playing with students’ lives. As has been shown in the last month with two young COVID-19-linked fatalities in the province, while young people are less prone to serious issues from COVID-19, they are far from invincible.
However, even putting aside those issues, there are plenty of reasons that students shouldn’t be in school, from contagion concerns to staffing issues and absenteeism and finally, and most importantly if you listen to the experts, to a healthcare system concern.
Let’s deal with that last one first, because, if you listen to the experts, what we’re trying to do with these lockdowns is protect our frayed healthcare system by limiting the number of people who need hospitalization.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, so sending children back to school will impact everything connected to school. If one case of COVID-19 gets into the school, from how terrifyingly transmissible this Omicron variant is, we’ll likely be looking at dozens, if not hundreds of exposures as a result. Between their family members, these students will be spreading the disease beyond the school and, while students are less likely to need hospitalization and/or an ICU bed, the same can’t be said for their parents and grandparents.
Then you also have the staff, who will be at risk, alongside their own families, and, if their children attend another school, their peers and their peer’s families. As Premier Doug Ford said when he announced remote learning earlier this month, one per cent of cases requiring hospitalization may seem small until you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of cases on a weekly basis.
So, to protect our healthcare system, students need to continue remote learning.
We’ll also undoubtedly see staffing issues at the schools due to COVID-19, which will lead to substitute teachers being needed, which creates even more opportunity for exposure so, for that reason, remote learning should probably keep going.
Finally, there’s the fact that, with how transmissible we’re told the Omicron variant is, many students and their families are going to end up at home in isolation for the better part of two weeks anyway, so why not wait until numbers have come down? I mean, heck, we can’t even test everyone now, so how are parents going to know if it's safe to send their children to school?
While there have been a number of difficult decisions to make during this pandemic, I don’t believe this is one of them. For better or worse, our healthcare system, students and their families will be better off under remote learning.