'I will never know': Sask. ends COVID-19 case reporting in schools
As of Friday, Saskatchewan parents and caregivers are no longer required to tell schools if their child has COVID-19 - a decision that isn't sitting well some two Saskatoon parents.
"It's like sending my kid to school, with the full possibility of getting an infection. And I don't have the option to decide at all," said Aruna Padmanabhan, a parent who spoke with CTV News over Facebook messenger.
Health Minister Paul Merriman announced the change Thursday morning along with a shortening of the self-isolation time required for unvaccinated people who test positive for the illness — from 10 to five days.
"As we learn to live with COVID, we learned to be prepared to transition our public health measures and responses," Merriman said.
"We have to continually adapt to what we're seeing in front of us what the real data is explaining to us."
Padmanabhan has two kids, aged four and seven. She said her seven-year-old has been flagged as a close contact twice since the start of the school year.
"So we kept the younger one a little isolated from his brother. Now with these guidelines, I will never know," she said.
Another parent CTV News spoke with said the change is “selfish.”
Shaunna Cey has three kids, ages 12, nine and six, who attend North Park Wilson School.
She said the school is good at informing them of any problems, but she worries that will no longer happen and wants parents to continue to report positive test results even if it isn’t required.
“I as a parent would still let the school know because why wouldn’t you? You want to keep our kids safe,” Cey said.
The Ministry of Health said in a statement to CTV News that the changes stem from the widespread community transmission seen in the current Omicron-fueled wave.
"Contact tracing is no longer an effective measure to help slow the spread of COVID-19 due to the shorter incubation period and the fact that many more infected people show few or no symptoms," the ministry said.
The ministry pointed to the health measures still in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as indoor masking rules and proof of vaccination requirements.
Saskatchewan Teacher's Federation president Patrick Maze calls the change "frustrating."
"That was really the only tool that parents and educators had for kind of doing a risk assessment on how bad the situation was in the school," Maze told CTV News in a Zoom interview.
"And so once you remove that, we'll have really no idea how many cases there are."
Maze said while the rule requiring parents to report COVID-19 cases ultimately relied on an honour system, it was still better than the alternative.
"To completely eliminate it just kind of throws out any ability for education workers to be able to tell whether they're working in a safe spot or not," Maze said.
Margi Corbett, a retired teacher and admin with Safe Schools Saskatchewan, is also frustrated over the announcement, saying she is hearing from many concerned parents.
“They’re still getting letters about head lice for example, but not about a potentially fatal respiratory illness. And that just doesn’t seem right. It seems illogical, irresponsible and they’re a little bit frightened by that,” she said.
“It really does feel like we’re throwing (students) to the wolves.”
In light of the province's announcement, Saskatoon Public Schools said it will no longer share information concerning close COVID-19 contacts.
"In the absence of a public health order or direction from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, schools cannot share an individual’s private health information," the school division said in a message to parents.
The division said any child who tests positive for COVID-19 should be reported as "sick."
The Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) is also making similar changes.
"As schools will no longer be notified of cases, schools will not have accurate information to pass along to families," GSCS said in an update for parents and caregivers.
Any GSCS classes currently online will move to in-person learning as of Jan. 31.
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