I am writing in response to the letter sent out by the Prince George Teacher’s Association (PGDTA) to Dr. Bonnie Henry dated December 16. I am a Prince George teacher concerned that this letter is representing my voice when I disagree strongly with the message. I recognize the PGDTA has a role to represent the union members and their concerns. As I neither sought to voice my contentment with the current protocols or was asked my opinion, I will share it now and work to remedy this situation in future.
I feel this letter was based on fear instead of the facts at hand. The rate or transmission from asymptomatic people within the same household is very low, approximately 0.7 per cent. In addition, the CDC has stated that you need to be within a distance of six feet for a length of fifteen minutes for possible transfer of the virus to take place. If the child is under the age of ten they are half as likely to get COVID-19 and half as likely to transmit the virus. Based on the above information, the risk of infection in the teaching profession as compared to many other professions is low.
There are many disadvantages to using a mask in the general population, which would also be applicable and possibly even more so in children and adolescents. This includes headache and/or breathing difficulties, development of facial skin lesions and irritant dermatitis, difficulty with communicating clearly, touching their faces more and a false sense of security.
A mask also creates a humid habitat where SARS-CoV-2 can remain active due to breathing providing continuous water vapour captured by the mask. This increases viral load and can cause an increase in infections. At this time, I have not located any long-term studies on the health effects of masking on children. Without further data and study, I feel the PGDTA letter is demanding children trade their health for other’s health and I cannot support this.
Children need to be in school and they need to be able to socialize with their peers (especially at the pre-teen and adolescent stage) for their mental health. We’ve seen the statistics on abuse, the increase in calls to the children’s help line, and the increase in suicides in youth this year. The current COVID-19 pandemic has created a constant culture of change and uncertainty. School is possibly the only dependable and unchanging thing in some children’s lives. At the beginning of a typical school year, I would agree that reduced class sizes benefit children. However, with the timing and during a pandemic I cannot possibly support this suggestion.
I recognize the balance that the PGDTA and by extension the BCTF has in valuing their union members voices and health, but encourage them to gather more information. In Spain, it was found that 87 per cent of the school staff who tested positive were single cases; they did not infect anyone. A study from Norway also found that elementary school teachers had a 1.5 in 1,000 chance and high school teachers were found to have a 1.2 in 1,000 chance of contracting COVID through the workplace during the first wave of COVID-19. How does this compare to Canada and British Columbia?
I encourage the PGDTA and BCTF to request the province to provide teachers with more detailed information regarding hospitalization, ICU stays and recovery of teachers. I believe more information needs to be gathered prior to demanding changes to our current protocols in place.
My personal experience in the classroom and school has been safe and supported by the school district and my student’s families. Families do not send their children to school sick. If their child becomes sick, they are typically picked up immediately. Each school has a health and safety committee that should be utilized by employees if there are concerns. Our district is following protocols and cleaning continues to take place. Families are following the guidelines set out by Northern Health.
In the words of doctor Gil Nimni, a Toronto ER doctor in a radio interview on Global News 640 Toronto on December 18: “People need to know that getting COVID is not a death sentence.”
I believe we need to continue the balanced approach that is already in place moving forward into 2021. Teachers need to take personal responsibility for their own health and not place the impact of response on the health and future of the youth of today.