Student absenteeism in Saskatchewan schools, emergency rooms filling

Schools across Saskatchewan are experiencing a wide range of sicknesses as hospitals are seeing higher numbers of children seeking care in emergencies.

Dr. Athena McConnell, who is a Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist, says the numbers of kids in Saskatoon that are coming into the Jim Pattinson’s Children Hospital emergency are higher than they would have been over the summer.

“We are seeing that a proportion of those kids end up getting admitted for respiratory illnesses,” she said. “I think what parents are likely experiencing is higher wait times to be seen and a lot of that is because there are a higher number of people waiting to be seen.”

Dr. McConnell said when the province relaxed the COVID-19 pandemic measures, we are likely to see more children and adults with respiratory viruses. She said the other factor that could possibly contribute to the increased number of sick kids is due to the pain medication shortage.

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Read more: Saskatoon hospitals continue to be overcapacity

“We have an unexpected shortage of over-the-counter fever lowering (medication),” she said.

“When we have families who don’t have access to Tylenol and Advil to lower their kids’ fever, there is going to be more anxiety. And some of that is going to drive families to bring their children into emergency… because they don’t have the measures at home to be able to care for those children at home.”

Dr. Lanre Medu, a SHA Public Health Physician based in Regina, said there are three circulating respiratory viruses in Saskatchewan; rhinovirus, COVID and influenza.

“About two weeks ago, rhinovirus was leading and influenza was kind of in third place, but influenza activity seems to have increased over the last week or so,” he said.

Dr. Medu said kids catching one of the three respiratory illnesses may possibly contribute to school absences that school divisions are seeing. In an emailed statement, the Saskatoon Public School Division stated they are seeing an increase in absences due to illness compared to their last average school year in 2019.

“For the health and safety of our students and staff, we encourage proper hygiene practices and we do ask that those who are experiencing illness stay home until they are well,” according to the statement.

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However, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health stated in a prepared email statement to Global News that an increase in school absenteeism is not expected.

“It remains important that families take precautions to slow the spread of respiratory viruses,” according to the statement.

“Last month, as circulation of respiratory illnesses beyond COVID-19 began to increase, the Ministry of Health decided it was appropriate to expand public reporting to include all forms of respiratory illness in Saskatchewan.”

Read more: COVID-19: Relaxed health measures to blame for sick kids, Saskatchewan pediatrician says

The administrator of Safe Schools Saskatchewan says parents expressed a major concern about feeling pressured to send kids to school when the parents and the teachers know the kids should not be there because they’re just spreading more virus.

“There’s pressure for working parents to use the school as a daycare,” said Margi Corbett, who is also a retired teacher. “There’s pressure for teachers to allow kids to stay in all day and not send them home halfway through the day because their parents aren’t home. There’s a lot of pressure just on the number of absentees … parents and teachers are feeling the pressure.”

Corbett says she would like to see masking mandated in all indoor spaces and to see improved ventilation in classrooms.

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“The mask mandate should never have been loosened up in the first place, but it has been, and now it has to be tightened up again. I think that’s my opinion,” she said. “I’d like to see more support for parents who are at the end of their rope in terms of how to keep their children at home and work at the same time.”

Although there is no official number of students who are absent from school, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health stated school illness absenteeism data is forthcoming and will be made available in the Community Respiratory Illness Surveillance Program (CRISP) reports beginning later this month.

Click to play video: 'Thousands of students absent from school in Edmonton'

Thousands of students absent from school in Edmonton

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