Parents will go to great lengths to prioritize their kids' education, and to keep them safe. Twenty months into the COVID pandemic, after seemingly endless days of virtual learning and lockdowns, that's more true than ever. But with public health officials still on high alert, parents are not having an easy start to the new academic year.
Guidelines remain in place requiring kids to be Covid tested when experiencing a variety of common symptoms, or to stay at home for 10 days. In my house, my eldest came home with a stomach ache on his sixth day of school. After a trip to Branson for a test, he was back to school on day eight.
The next day, my younger son came home with a head cold. His older brother joined him back at home two days later, and another round of testing was in order. 17 days into the school year we've had eight sick days and three Covid tests between two kids at our house. For us, every day spent in the classroom is more precious than ever.
It's been worse for other families.
In one local school, three full classrooms were shut down for 10 days because of positive Covid cases. Parents have vented their frustration and demanded changes to policies because there was no mechanism to get the whole class tested at once and ensure a quick return to classes. They have pointed to the flaws in seemingly arbitrary quarantine guidelines when better and faster screening options exist.
Some local parents have joined a network of others across the province migrating to Waterloo region to pick-up rapid antigen tests provided for free by the Province of Ontario under its StaySafe program. By Wednesday night, the Province announced it was cracking down on such use of rapid tests for school kids, as the program is a pilot designed to provide resources to businesses to safely re-open.
Parents are asking why kids under the age of 12, who are not yet able to be vaccinated, are not a bigger priority for such available safety screening. Ontario's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore has said that the Province is studying the use of these tests in schools, but parents want these answers - and practical solutions - right now.
The reality is, with the Delta variant in play, pediatric Covid cases remain on the rise. A recent study in the U.S. showed an increase of 240% in kids since July. Continued caution is absolutely warranted.
But for all families sharing in this frustration, the good news is that preparations are well underway to administer vaccine doses to kids aged 5-11. Toronto Public Health shared some of its planning information on Monday with positive trial results in children announced by Pfizer. A variety of health care partners and school boards will be ready to work together as soon as the vaccine is approved by Health Canada, hopefully before the end of December.
We're getting closer to that light at the end of the long dark tunnel. For frustrated parents, it can't come soon enough.