As long as Quebec’s health−care system doesn’t become overwhelmed between now and then, elementary schools and daycares in much of the province will reopen in two weeks, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Monday.
Legault set May 11 as reopening day for schools and daycares outside greater Montreal, with Montreal to follow suit the next week on May 19. He said attendance won’t be mandatory.
High schools, junior colleges and universities will remain closed until September, but Legault is urging those institutions to do as much online teaching as possible.
The premier said he is reopening elementary schools because COVID−19 infections in the province’s hospitals are “under control” and the virus is not dangerous to young children. Long−term care homes continue to be severely affected by the virus, however.
“Will we monitor the situation,” Legault said of the health−care system’s ability to manage COVID−19 infections. “If the situation gets worse, or isn’t as expected, then we will adjust. The important words are ’gradual’ and ’prudence.’ ”
Legault and the province’s director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, had been pushing the idea of so−called “herd immunity” or natural immunity, as a rationale for reopening schools. That strategy involves exposing children to the novel coronavirus in a measured, gradual way to help them develop a natural immunity.
That plan was criticized on the weekend by Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, who said despite evidence that the virus is particularly dangerous to older people and those with underlying health conditions, younger people are still at risk.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there is no conclusive evidence that people who have recovered from the virus have antibodies that protect them from getting infected again.
But Legault said Monday his decision to reopen schools was not based on a strategy of developing natural immunity.
He said his reasons are that special needs children need to be followed closely by the teachers; the risk to young people from COVID−19 is limited; COVID−19 admissions in hospitals are under control; and public health has agreed the schools should open.
The final reason is that “life needs to continue,” Legault said.
“It’s good for kids to see their friends, their teachers,” he told reporters in Quebec City. “We don’t expect a vaccine before 12 to 18 months. So we can’t keep kids at home for 12 to 18 months.”
Legault said he’d like classrooms to have a maximum of 15 students and is asking parents who have chronic health conditions to keep their kids at home. If a student has an underlying health condition that could make them more vulnerable to complications from COVID−19, then they should also be kept at home, Legault said.
He said parents will not be penalized if they want to keep their young children out of school.
Education Minister Jean−Francois Roberge is scheduled to announce more details Monday afternoon. Legault said he will present his plan to reopen the economy on Tuesday.
Quebec announced Monday 84 more COVID−19 deaths in the province, bringing the total to 1,599.
There are also 875 new cases, for a total of 24,982. Legault said 75 of the 84 new deaths originated in long−term care homes.
He thanked the thousands of people who have applied to work in the facilities, including Olympic medal−winning figure skater Joannie Rochette and Super Bowl−winning football player Laurent Duvernay−Tardif, both of whom are medical school graduates.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2020.
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press