Saskatchewan Medical Association urges more caution with school reopening

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 Thursday.

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 in a release.

 “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 defence 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,” Dr. Konstantynowicz said.

“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 yesterday the SMA was advised there would be more discussions on how to keep people apart in a school context.

“Certainly the opinions of the doctors of this province is important in terms of establishing the protocols and the practices that we need. But I do want to remind you that Dr. Shahab is the Chief Medical Health Officer so the consultations that he is having with his professionals, that he is having with his colleagues across this country other Chief Medical Health Officers including Dr. (Theresa) Tam, in terms of insuring that we have the right protocols in place. Those conversations will continue but input that we are receiving from the SMA will be important in that consideration as I have mentioned,” Minister of Education Gord Wyant said in a press conference.

“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 centre 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.”

Wyant explained the province’s education response planning team will meet quickly to look at the recommendations of the federal government and SMA.