Quebec is considering the possibility of closing schools as the number of novel coronavirus cases and deaths climb during the second wave of the pandemic.
Premier François Legault admitted Thursday that more than 300 classrooms had to be closed in the last two days, for a total of 1,174 across the province. But he stressed that the last thing the government wants is to shutter schools and send students home.
“It’s a situation that is worrying,” he said.
As the second wave continues to take hold, he said the province is looking at closures for a limited period of time to stem the tide of COVID-19. This could be close to the Christmas holidays.
“Schools are a place of transmission. It is why we’re evaluating the possibility of closing the schools for a limited period of time,” he said. “And as I’ve said before, that is our last solution.”
Legault says public health authorities have assured him that poor ventilation is not to blame for community transmission in school, but the department has been asked to evaluate that possibility again.
The government has not yet made a decision about shutting schools, but he says “it would be unthinkable not to consider all scenarios.” He also assured that parents will be given advanced warning of any closures.
The province is in discussion with unions to see if classes could continue into summer 2021 if necessary, he added.
Quebec has seen an uptick in COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalizations in recent days after numbers hit a plateau in October. The province reported 1,365 new cases and 42 additional deaths Thursday.
The coming weeks will be critical, according to Legault.
“The next few weeks will be difficult,” he said.
Provinces across Canada have been seeing a surge in cases and the deepening of the health crisis over the fall has once again forced Quebec to roll out restrictions to contain the spread.
A large swath of the province is on red alert, including Montreal and Quebec City, until at least Nov. 23. Regions that weren’t as hard hit during the first wave are now facing unprecedented upticks. The partial lockdown includes the shutdown of gyms, bars and dining rooms as well as a ban on most gatherings.
Quebec has the highest death toll, with more than 6,500 fatalities since March. The caseload stands at 119,894 since the beginning of the pandemic.
When asked about other possible measures, Legault stressed that Quebecers need to limit their contacts but also admitted that “everything is on the table right now.”
‘It seems to be out of control’
Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said the situation “seems to be out of control.”
She told Global News that government should have listened to unions’ recommendations in the spring, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, to prevent closing schools. She says they suggested a slow return to school and smaller class sizes, but she charges those recommendations fell flat and weren’t heard.
“A closure at Christmas may be a good idea,” she said. “But teachers need to be considered and consulted.”
As for extending the school calendar into the summer months, Yetman said she is not sure how Quebec teachers will feel about that scenario.
“Speaking as a teacher for 23 years, my March break and my summer break were essential for my well-being. I’m not sure how teachers will feel,” she said.
—With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press