Schools in Regina, surrounding area and southeast go to online learning

Regina – Schools in Regina, the area around that city and east to Whitewood, as well as southeast Saskatchewan have announced they are going to remote learning until April 23. They will revert to online learning for two weeks, following the week-long Easter break.

Those announcements came on April 1.

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During the regular COVID-19 briefing on that day, Minister of Health Paul Merriman started out by apologizing for inaccurate reporting of intensive care unit (ICU) counts in the daily COVID-19 releases and online dashboard. While the number of hospital beds in use overall was accurate, a number of beds being used for ICU purposes, but not in the ICUs themselves, was not being counted as ICU cases.

Merriman said, “This is not acceptable. The public of Saskatchewan expect and deserve accurate public reporting of our COVID data. And Dr. Shahab requires accurate data to inform his direction, and recommendations to government. We have come up short in this regard. This morning I met with the CEO of the SHA (Saskatchewan Health Authority) to express my disappointment and concern over this error. To ensure that this was corrected quickly as possible, and to ensure that the data will be reported accurately.

“As Minister, I am ultimately responsible for this. And I apologize for the error in this reporting.”

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said the biggest factor was the designation of patients that had been moved into temporary ICU beds, but weren’t being counted as ICU beds.

Livingstone said, “I just want to be clear that at no time in the clinical care of patients … was impacted because of this data reporting. All patients receive the care that they needed, whether that was ICU or non-ICU, whether infectious or non-infectious. So that data reporting has no impact at all on the care that these patients have received.”

Schools

Merriman said that Shahab had just had a meeting with the schools. Merriman said, “What we always look at is what is going to be best for the students and safest for the student?”

He continued, “The best is always going to be in-classroom learning. So we tried to do that as long as it's maintained in a safe way. We have shipped out over 100,000 rapid tests to the school divisions, and we have given them the opportunity to be able to make their own decision, on the local level. In speaking to school boards across the province, there are a lot of them that don't feel that they need to go to at-home learning, just because it isn't an issue in their specific area. And that's why we allow those decisions to be made at the local level, because it might be in the Regina and Moose Jaw area, and maybe in between those two areas, but it might not necessarily be as predominant in say Saskatoon or up in the north, in Prince Albert, or in other areas of the province where there isn't a big issue.

“So that's why we've allowed the school board, to be able to make that local decision, and we feel that they've been doing this in a very effective way. They're making sure they have their finger on the pulse of what's happening in their specific community, and we feel that they can make those decisions locally.”

Vaccinations

Merriman noted it took 89 days, from Dec. 15 to March 13, to deliver the first 100,000 vaccine doses in Saskatchewan. It took just 19 to deliver the next 100,000 shots.

Merriman said 45,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were expected to arrive on April 1. They will be used in a series of drive-thru and walk-in clinics.

“So this Saturday, we will be opening drive thru clinics in Regina and Swift Current. There will also be a walk-in clinic open in Swift Current opening tomorrow, and Weyburn on Saturday. Two more drive throughs were open in North Battleford and Lloydminster on Sunday, and a drive thru will open at Prairieland in Saskatoon on Monday. More clinics will be open and Moose Jaw, Yorkton, Prince Albert in the coming week. The SHA will announce the exact times on location over the next few days. Anyone aged 55 and older can come to one of those drive-thru or walk-in clinics, and get your shot. All of these new clinics are first come, first serve. So, you'll be made while maybe waiting for a while. But the lines actually moved pretty quick, thanks to the efficiency of our health care workers. And it is certainly worth the wait.”

If a person already has an appointment for a vaccination, but chooses to go to a drive-thru, he asked that they cancel the other appointment so that can be allotted to someone else.

As for the regular vaccination queue, he said that people 58 and older can start booking their vaccinations as of April 2. Vaccinations will continue throughout the Easter weekend.

Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said with regards to Easter, people should stay close to their own communities, and consider using virtual means to attend worship services.

Shahab noted that “Regina is challenged by rising case numbers and has a specific order in place, how Moose Jaw and Weyburn are seeing high number of cases and, obviously, in those situations, everyone needs to be especially cautious. But we've also seen how things can change quickly. While the rest of Saskatchewan has low case numbers, we have seen how, in some southern communities, within two three weeks things can turn around very quickly.”

NDP response

NDP Education Critic Carla Beck, sent the Minister of Education Dustin Duncan a letter “urgently calling on the government to prioritize – with actions rather than words – keeping schools open, keeping staff and students in the schools safe, and getting community transmission under control,” according to a release on April 1.

“They need a plan. It’s become painfully obvious that the ‘sit and wait’ approach this government has taken, rather than implementing proactive science-based measures, is not working,” said Beck. “This pandemic has already taken an immense toll on students and widened the disparities between them. This government needs to do something to ensure we get (variants of concern) under control so that we can get students and teachers back into the classroom and save the rest of the school year.”

The NDP said variants of Concern have begun to spread rapidly, forcing more and more school divisions online. This has caused concerns among parents and teachers about the lack of resources accessible to students and families as they shift back to remote learning. 

The NDP said the government should work with school divisions to identify students who do not have access to online learning tools, provide additional support and resources as needed.  

This includes ensuring internet access for all schools and students, getting rapid testing off the ground during Easter break, timely mental health support for youth and staff, and re-assessing the Safe Schools Plan “to ensure it is adequate in mitigating risks from variants of concern.”

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