Parents must weigh back-to-class risks, says Nunavut health minister
Baker Lake schools reduce capacity in respsone COVID-19 case increase
With Nunavut schools set to reopen in a matter of days, Health Minister John Main addressed some parents’ concerns on Thursday about sending their kids back to class as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread.
Vaccination appointments have been limited at some community health centres due to staffing shortages. As a result, some kids could be going back to school without having had the chance to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even if their parents want them to get the shot.
“As it stands right now there is no vaccine mandate in place for schools, so all students in that situation are able to join in,” Main said.
When asked what parents should do if they’re worried about sending their kids back to class without appointments available to get the vaccine, Main said parents need to make that call themselves.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to each parent to make a judgment on whether they’re comfortable making the decision of sending their child to school.”
Main said he understands many factors can affect this decision, such as children having medical conditions that puts them more at risk of the virus, or if a child is living with someone considered vulnerable to the disease.
Dr. Michael Patterson encouraged parents to consider risks outside of schools, such as visiting between households, which could be the same or greater than the risk of sending a child to school.
“Anyone who’s concerned about individual risk, they should be also looking at other sources of exposure,” he said.
Main said vaccination appointments have been “spotty” in some communities due to staffing issues, but mass vaccine clinics will be rolled out across the territory in the coming weeks.
The first clinic will be at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit on Jan. 22. It will be a walk-in clinic for youth from 12 to 17 years old who got their second dose at least six months ago.
Main did not specify whether clinics in other communities will also just provide booster doses or have first and second doses available as well.
Education Minister Pamela Gross addressed questions about how the department plans to make up for how much school time students have lost during the pandemic.
“I know [school staff] are working very hard to ensure the students are learning as much as possible,” Gross said.
Teachers are being encouraged to take the differences among their students’ home lives into account to help their learning as well, she said.
After confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Baker Lake quadrupled in the span of a week, schools there will only be reopening at half capacity, Nunavut’s chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson has decided.
“The goal is to keep the risk of exposure to the same level or less risk of exposure due to other activities,” he said.
Patterson made the announcement at a news conference on Thursday after 35 cases were confirmed in the community, just seven days after the tally was eight.
“There has been a significant increase in the number of infected individuals in Baker Lake,” he said.
Patterson will continue to assess the situation in each community weekly and lower school capacities for one to two weeks as needed, he said.
All schools in Nunavut are returning to 100 per cent or 50 per cent capacity on Monday.
Those returning at half capacity are Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Iqaluit, Kinngait, Arviat and Rankin Inlet.
In Iqaluit, a daycare has closed due to a COVID-19 exposure, Patterson also said.
Daycares just opened back up on Monday after a Nunavut-wide lockdown imposed in December.
Patterson said COVID-19 testing and contact tracing are ongoing at the Iqaluit daycare.