How will classrooms be kept safe? PHAC says back-to-school guidelines coming
TORONTO -- As schools get ready to welcome students back to the classroom in September they’re outlining measures to keep everyone safe from COVID-19, but there’s growing concern about what that means for the youngest cohort.
Canada hasn’t approved a vaccine yet for children under the age of 12. And only about 37 per cent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have been fully vaccinated.
That means precautions are needed. And the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) plans to release guidance for schools, including those with children under the age of 12, in the next few weeks, agency spokesperson Anne Génier said on Wednesday.
“It takes into consideration important factors such as transmission dynamics in school settings and child/youth populations, community vaccine coverage, as well as indicators like COVID-19 epidemiology, healthcare and public health capacity, and risk reduction measures in place,” Génier said.
In the meantime, various pandemic rules remain and schools are laying out plans.
“We’re now starting to hear about back-to-school protocols across the country,” Toronto-based infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said Wednesday on CTV's Your Morning. “Many of them have a focus on masking, distancing, ventilation etc. These are all measures that can create safer indoor environments.”
The key will be how well they’re implemented, he said.
“That will determine whether or not schools are a major focus and a major driver of COVID-19 as we enter the fall.”
Bogoch said he expects Health Canada may approve a vaccine for children under the age of 12 in the late fall, early winter.
In July, PHAC said in an emailed statement that “all manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in Canada are conducting or planning studies in adolescents and younger children,” and that the organization, expected data “in the coming months.”
“At this time, no submission has been received for the approval of any COVID-19 vaccine in children under 12 years of age,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, released modelling on Friday that indicates COVID-19 cases are beginning to rise as a result of the more contagious Delta variant.
To date, there have been about 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 in Canada and about 7,795 are active. About 59.89 per cent of the country’s 38.1 million people are fully vaccinated.
It’s important for people to be vigilant and to take precautions due to the rapid spread of the variant and the expected flu season in the fall.
“We certainly know kids can get infected [with COVID-19] and we know they can transmit this infection,” Bogoch said.
And while children don’t tend to get as sick as older people, some are hit hard by COVID-19.
“You still can’t ignore that there are a small percentage of kids that do get acutely ill,” Bogoch said.
And according to recent studies, it’s estimated that 1.8 per cent of kids may have long-term symptoms, he said.