SHA shares data behind Regina school divisions’ switch back to in-class learning

Two days after an internal Regina Public Schools email began circulating, claiming the statistics guiding decision-making around in-class learning aren’t being regularly shared, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has produced and distributed an epidemiological analysis with regards to COVID-19 in schools.

The SHA report, dated Friday, provides context on local medical health officers’ support for Regina school divisions’ return to in-class learning on Monday.

It comes on the heels of an internal email from Regina Public Schools education director Greg Enion on Wednesday.

Read more: Regina Catholic, public schools opening buildings to students on May 3

Enion’s Wednesday email, which Global News obtained, starts out by noting the continued prevalence of the coronavirus in the city, notes “the return to school may seem premature based on data that we all see on media and social media,” but goes on to say that’s not what the division relied on when making the decision to transition its students back into its buildings. It goes on to say that medical professionals “recommended the move back to class on Monday” and that the board supports the decision.

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Regina Public Schools’ supervisor of communication, Terry Lazarou, clarified in a follow-up statement to Global News that the decision was ultimately made by the division’s senior administration.

According to Enion’s email, he gets regular updates on the COVID-19 situation in schools several times per week, but not the numbers.

“Many commenters on news and social media have requested to ‘see the data.’ I can respect that. However, we don’t create, or own, that data. Medical and Population Health experts we respect do. We are disappointed and frustrated that this data is not regularly shared with the public, or even with us.”

The epidemiological analysis, which the SHA says was shared with Regina school divisions Friday afternoon, confirms the local medical health officers’ advisory role.

Global News was provided a copy as well.

845 school-related cases between January and March

The epidemiologic analysis shows that Regina area schools have had 1,134 COVID-19 cases since January.

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In a closer review of 845 school-related cases in the Regina area between January and March 2021, 14 per cent of the cases affiliated with schools “likely have been acquired in the school setting,” the report states.

The data shows that cases peaked between March 28 to April 3 and began declining the week of April 4 to April 10.

“The decline in school-related cases has continued into the current week as we have so far only identified 25 cases in persons of school age,” the report adds.

The Regina-area medical health officers go on to say that given the findings, they feel schools “may consider resuming in-person learning should they choose.”

The officers explain they are making this recommendation because evidence shows; “acquisition of COVID-19 among students, staff and teachers has mainly occurred outside of schools; the case numbers in Regina are declining, and the decline preceded the decision for schools to proceed to online learning; and the evidence indicates adherence to public health measures (masking, distancing, co-horting) works.”

The report concludes that medical health officers will continue to monitor case trends and patterns and a recommendation for reversal of the decision may come in the future.

“We will continue to provide updates to our school division partners regularly about risk assessment to support these difficult decisions,” the report states.

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‘Doesn’t make a lot of sense’

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Patrick Maze said Thursday that Regina Public Schools teachers have been reaching out since receiving Enion’s email, including several who contacted him directly.

There are more COVID-19 cases in Regina now, and more daily new cases reported in the city, than when the move to this round of remote learning was made at the end of March, Maze pointed out.

Click to play video: 'Coping with another round of virtual learning in the Regina area' Coping with another round of virtual learning in the Regina area

Coping with another round of virtual learning in the Regina area – Mar 30, 2021

“To be coming out of it now doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.

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“They’re pointing in part to lower numbers in school-age children but of course numbers should be lower in school-age children because they’ve been learning at home,” Maze continued.

“That doesn’t mean that it’s safe for them to return to school. That just means that what we’ve been doing has been working,” he said.

At the end of Enion’s correspondence, he adds “a word about communication,” saying “there is considerable misinformation in social media and incomplete information on news media.”

“Please also keep in mind that we do have an Administrative Procedure 118 relating to Online Communication and Interaction/Social Media. Please familiarize yourselves with it,” he writes.

He also says his office will directly share critical information while operational information may come from supervisors, principals, the division’s website or social media.

“In these situations where the health of their employee group is a cause for concern, it comes across as kind of heavy-handed,” Maze told Global News. “It’s not acknowledging that employees have all kinds of fears going on and it might be better to just hit that straight up.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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