• The Low Down

Fifty family bubble

“Family bubbles only” states the big temporary road sign along Notch road like the one on the front page of The Low Down’s Jan. 20 edition (‘One in two plates from Ontario’). I pass it on the way to drop-off and pick-up of my daughter at school each day. It reminds me of the “50 family bubble” that Premier Legault’s policies have created for me: the 28 families of my eldest daughter’s classmates and additional 22 families of her younger sister’s classmates.


The Quebec government has not provided an opt-out option for parents faced with an airborne virus that is effectively spread within closed spaces, like classrooms, by asymptomatic carriers. As asymptomatic transmitters go, children are ideal. Yet Legault, like the other business-friendly Canadian premiers who let COVID-19’s second wave build and likely overwhelm their province’s healthcare systems, seems to be under the impression that schools are not a significant source of transmission.


This perspective is nonsensical. SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infects children and teenagers, and once infected they are a source of transmission. The German virologist Christian Drosten, who was recently part of the group of experts advising German Chancellor Angela Merkel, makes this clear in an interview with Der Spiegel, stating: “I would not have considered it likely that children would be spared by SARS-CoV-2. From a purely biological perspective, the mucous membrane doesn’t change all that much during puberty. Which means that children can also get infected — and be contagious. That so many doubts about that fact have arisen was always, and still is, confusing to me.”


Why Premier Legault is maintaining policies premised on the perspective that transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus within schools is not contributing to the steep second wave Quebec is experiencing is a mystery. Epidemiologists, aerosol scientists who study the movement of aerosols [suspension of particles or liquid in an air or gas] and building ventilation engineers have been pointing out that the measures that Quebec’s Ministry of Education have imposed are not fit for the purpose of managing an airborne virus that spreads easily in confined spaces like a classroom. Despite these experts’ advocacy for smaller class sizes, universal use by all ages of effective masks and ventilation systems that frequently replace air in the classroom with fresh outside air, minimal changes have been instituted to further limit transmission between families.


Last July, well before the return to school, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said at a news conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters: “If we suppress the virus in our society, in our communities, then our schools can open safely.”


Premier Legault’s government has clearly failed to suppress the virus in our society and communities, yet despite the pending crisis, the policy approach remains to keep schools open, with only minor additional measures to prevent transmission. That the Legault government keeps kids in school, even with the new B.1.1.7 COVID variant spreading within Canada in a manner that looks to be potentially more deadly, is imprudent – reckless, even.


Premier Legault’s Health Minister Christian Dubé had this to say last week: “We said reopening schools was our priority. We know there is going to be transmission there. And we said that was a risk we could take.” Given the current situation, the Health Minister is far too complacent about the risk families must endure in their 50 family bubbles.


Andrew Henry lives in Chelsea.