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January 8, 2021 – Federal and provincial government update on the COVID-19 pandemic

Here is an update on recent decisions and actions by the Canadian and Québec governments in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tutoring for students

Minister of Éducation Jean-François Roberge announced a recruitment campaign to make tutoring available to students in difficulty. He also cancelled ministerial exams and changed the weighting of the only two report cards for 2020-2021 so that the second one carries more weight.

Mr. Roberge is also introducing a series of measures to help students and school staff in this exceptional context of a global pandemic that has severely disrupted all education programs.

Students, college and university teachers, and retired teachers will be recruited through the online Répondez présents platform.

In addition to tutors to help children with learning difficulties, online discussion forums will be organized.

As for report cards, the first, scheduled for January 22, could be delayed to February 5. It will carry less weight than the second and final report card in order to give students a chance to catch up if they did less well in the first part of the year.

School ventilation

While many parents and teachers are worried about aerosol transmission, Minister Roberge, along with Public Health’s strategic medical officer, Dr. Richard Massé, announced that air quality tests conducted in 330 schools were reassuring.

Despite the dilapidated state of several schools, the tests conducted three times in 1,309 classrooms gave “encouraging” results, said Minister Roberge.

According to the samples taken, the results were 20% above the standard set for schools, which are already five times more stringent than for the workplace. Approximately 3% of tests revealed problems. The minister said that the situation in these schools will be rectified or, if this is not possible, these classrooms and meeting rooms will no longer be used for those purposes.

Dr. Massé added that a committee of 20 experts, in addition to six independent specialists, concluded that ventilators should not be installed in classrooms because they cause more problems than they solve.

To improve ventilation in schools with no mechanical ventilation systems, that is, approximately two-thirds of Québec’s 3,300 schools, it is being recommended that the buildings be aired out by opening the doors and windows several times a day, even in winter.

Immediate testing for symptomatic children

Given the lockdown and reduced social contacts due to the pandemic, Dr. Massé stated that there is currently no transmission of influenza in Québec and that if children present respiratory symptoms, they should be immediately tested for COVID-19, ideally within the first 24 hours.

The physician explained that “in the context of returning to school, if children have symptoms, chances are good that the infection is related to COVID-19.”

Priority vaccination for educational and daycare staff

Dr. Richard Massé confirmed that school and daycare staff will be at the front of the line for vaccination, along with vulnerable people in the groups already identified, namely, residents of residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs), seniors’ residences and intermediate resources as well as staff, along with seniors 70 years of age and over.

These workers will be considered members of essential services.

More vaccine doses possible

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that the government is still working to obtain the most vaccines possible and as quickly as possible, in order to accelerate vaccination across the country.

Mr. Trudeau confirmed that the government still has its sights set on ensuring that everyone who wishes to be vaccinated be so by September.

According to Mr. Trudeau, some 1.3 million people will be vaccinated in Canada by the end of the month.