School is back in session for Saskatchewan kids this week. But one parent and virologist believes it isn’t safe.
“We’ve decided to at least wait a couple of days, possibly a week, week and a half, before sending them back,” Alyson Kelvin said in an interview.
Kelvin and her husband are keeping their daughters Chloe, 12, and Hannah, 14, out of the classroom for at least a little longer — because they’re worried the highly transmissible Omicron COVID-19 variant could surge after the holidays.
“People went out, they had holiday gatherings where they possibly could pick up the virus,” Kelvin said.
“This is going to come back to the community if we don’t have systems in place to prevent that.”
The elementary and high school students say they’ll miss class and their friends but know they’ll be safer at home.
“I was a little nervous (about returning),” Chloe said, “especially because, lots of kids, they don’t wear their mask properly or take them off at school.”
They both experienced remote learning in the past and prefer to be in the classroom because they get to spend time with their friends and teachers.
“It’s not like the teacher is just giving us the work (like when we’re remote),” Hannah said.
There are no provincial plans in place for remote learning, so they’ll both rely on their teachers and friends to provide them with their assignments.
Kelvin’s decision was informed by both her parental instincts and professional opinion.
She’s a virologist and vaccinologist at VIDO-Intervac, where she’s helping develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
Most school-aged children are now eligible for their shots, and therefore less likely to pass on the virus. But that’s not enough during a surge. Kelvin knows vaccines are critical to ending the pandemic but don’t offer complete protection.
“The vaccine was designed to reduce disease severity and not necessarily to reduce infection,” Kelvin stated.
That means people who are vaccinated can still get infected. Being vaccinated makes them less likely to experience severe disease leading to hospitalization, long-term symptoms or death.
But she said the virus, and especially the Omicron variant, will still spread because children only recently became eligible for their shots, meaning not enough will be full vaccinated, and because some people aren’t yet vaccinated.
“This is going to lead to increased spread of the virus, as well as more cases, more severe cases and hospitalizations,” Kelvin said.
While Omicron may be milder than Delta, it is still COVID-19 and can cause those infected to need extensive medical care or prove fatal.
The family knows what can happen when someone gets infected.
Kelvin’s youngest nephew contracted COVID in the spring and is still suffering vision problems.
Kelvin says it’s important to keep the ICUs clear to help those who need it — including her daughter, Chloe, who has asthma.
“We often have to take her in for treatment for her asthma, to emergency, to the emergency room. If the hospital is overwhelmed, she might not be able to get this treatment when needed,” Kelvin said.
With regards to closing schools, Kelvin said the provincial government and school boards need to consider the case burden in local jurisdictions.
She also said authorities should implement frequent testing and encourage three-ply masks, not the cloth variety.
Kelvin is hoping science-based strategies and a sense of community will keep her daughters safe, so they won’t need to risk their health for their education.