With a noticeable uptick in COVID-19 cases in several Canadian provinces, experts are now calling it a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ and expecting a further increase of cases come September.
Dr. Anand Kumar, critical care physician and infectious disease specialist in Winnipeg, said the focus will be on children under age 12 when they return to school, since they are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
“I suspect we will see what we’ve seen in England and what we’re seeing in the States … I think kids will be a particular focus, we’ll see a lot more cases in kids,” he said.
That prediction is echoed by Dr. Steve Flindall, an emergency physician in York Region, Ont., who is already treating children in the ER who contracted COVID-19 at summer camp.
Although children are unlikely to get a severe case of COVID-19, pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Anna Banerji said they do remain vulnerable to the virus and its long-lasting effects.
“I’ve had families where you have healthy young teenagers that get COVID and then they have all the classical long haul symptoms that adults have … we don’t know what the long term consequence of that is,” she said.
When it comes to returning to school this fall, Banerji suggests the families who have not yet vaccinated their children have them “learn from home.”
“If you wanted to take the approach that you need to keep kids in school and keep everyone safe, then you need to have everyone in schools vaccinated. So teachers, custodians and students. And if students don’t want to get vaccinated, they really should learn at home online,” she added.
Flindall said he doesn’t expect the next wave to be as severe as previous waves but certainly the case count will rise.
“The next wave I think will be largely in children,” he said, adding, “I don’t expect the death tolls to be what they were (in previous waves), I don’t expect the ICU and hospital occupancies will be what they were.”
Next week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford will release a back-to-school plan and has vowed students will be “back in school at the beginning of September.”
“It’s a very comprehensive plan and we’re making sure that we increase the protocols to make sure the two million kids that are going back to school are going to be safe, as well as the teachers, changing everything from HEPA filters to making sure they have proper ventilation in the schools,” Ford said.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore has said that he wants a conservative, safe opening of schools and that there will be a separate set of rules for students based on their vaccination status.
“If you are two-dose vaccinated plus 14 days we’ll offer you a test if you’ve been a contact of a high-risk person — so someone that has had an ongoing cough or fever. If you test negative you can go right back to school, right back to work,” he said.
Meanwhile, those who aren’t vaccinated and are exposed will have to self-isolate for 10 days and pass two COVID tests, with a failed test leading to another 10 days off, Moore said at his weekly COVID briefing.
Banerji said she hopes families of young children are fully vaccinated in time for the return to school to “form a ring around the child.”
That way, she explained, should a child contract the virus, it will not spread in the community.
“We want children to be in school. Everyone wants children school. So let’s try to do it the safest way possible and keep kids in school.”