MONTREAL — The Quebec government says it's considering shutting schools for up to a month around the holiday season to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In the past two days, 324 classrooms across Quebec have been closed following COVID-19 outbreaks, Premier Francois Legault said Thursday. He said his government is looking at extending the winter break but said no firm decision has been made.
Legault said he is reluctant to close schools because students already missed several weeks of classes in the spring during the first wave. "It remains the last solution, but currently, when one looks at the situation, we should not exclude any solution," he told reporters in Quebec City.
Quebec reported 1,365 new COVID-19 infections Thursday and 42 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, including nine that occurred in the past 24 hours.
According to Health Department data, outbreaks at schools and workplaces accounted for nearly 77 per cent of the province's 1,509 outbreaks reported Thursday. Legault said 1,174 classrooms across Quebec are closed.
"Schools are a place of transmission," the premier said. "It is why we're evaluating the possibility of closing the schools for a limited period of time. We have to consider all our options to break the wave."
The province will meet with education unions about extending the school year into the summer to make up for lost weeks, and Legault assured that parents will be given advanced warning of any closures.
Students in secondary three, four and five already alternate between in-class instruction and online courses while younger students are in school full-time. Legault said public health hasn't linked the recent spike in classroom outbreaks to ventilation issues.
In light of recent directives from the World Health Organization regarding ventilation and aerosol transmission of COVID-19, Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said he's looking at new data and working with engineers to update the province's protocols.
Asked about the WHO's suggestion to reduce class sizes by half, Legault said that logistically, it wouldn't work. "If tomorrow morning we divide the classes in two, it takes twice as many classes and then it takes twice as many teachers," Legault said. "The WHO did not tell us where to find these classrooms and teachers to implement this suggestion."
Legault said the next few weeks could be tough for Quebecers, who he said need to reduce their contact with others. Partial lockdown orders have been place since Oct. 1 and will remain until at least Nov. 23.
"At this point, we cannot rule anything out," he said, regarding additional restrictions, "especially when we look at the situation in the United States and then in Europe."
Health officials Thursday reported 583 COVID-related hospitalizations, a rise of 10 compared to the previous day. Of those, 86 were in intensive care, a rise of two.
Quebec has reported 119,894 COVID-19 infections and 6,557 deaths linked to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. Officials reported Thursday that 843 more people had recovered from the disease, for a total of 101,407.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2020.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press