Aug. 7, 2020

Saskatchewan Medical Association urges more caution with school reopening

Yesterday, Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) leaders met with the province’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, and with senior officials from the Ministries of Health and Education to discuss elements of the province’s Safe Schools Plan.

The SMA is urging more caution when schools reopen this fall and met to discuss ways the government’s plan could better address physicians’ concerns regarding masks and social distancing principles.

“Saskatchewan doctors think it’s prudent to set the safety bar higher at the outset, then lower it when we know what we are dealing with,” said SMA president Dr. Barbara Konstantynowicz. “We simply don’t know how the virus will behave in a school setting. Then, as more information comes available, we can carefully roll back the restraints.”

The association representing the province’s physicians believes the recently released plan should be more directive with respect to using masks, a measure the SMA has itself been heavily promoting as a simple, yet effective defense against COVID-19 spread, especially when used with hand washing and social distancing techniques.

“Mask use is proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Konstantynowicz. “The evidence is strong, and for that reason, the SMA has been advocating the use of reusable masks wherever social distancing is difficult to maintain. While masks on their own will not completely prevent the spread of the virus, we believe their use is a very good way to make schools safer places for children, youth, teachers and support staff.”

In its meeting with senior officials, the SMA was advised there would be more discussions on how to keep people apart in a school context.  “Given the large numbers of students and teachers working in confined spaces, social distancing remains a real concern,” Dr. Konstantynowicz said. “Closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded spaces with many people, and close-contact settings with close-range conversations are not uncommon in schools and these realities need to be front and center in back to school plans.”

“We were reassured there are elements of the plan pertaining to resources still to come, and that individual school board plans will address some of the concerns physicians have about the school reopening,” Dr. Konstantynowicz said. “The SMA will continue to monitor the situation and provide feedback to the government. This is a very important issue for all of Saskatchewan.  We need to work together.” 

Saskatchewan doctors think it’s prudent to set the safety bar higher at the outset, then lower it when we know what we are dealing with. We simply don’t know how the virus will behave in a school setting. Then, as more information comes available, we can carefully roll back the restraints.

Dr. Barb Konstantynowicz

President, Saskatchewan Medical Association

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