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EDITORIAL: Safety is paramount

"We simply cannot afford COVID flareups in schools."

We could be on the eve of something truly catastrophic.  

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb in the Edmonton zone – 631, compared to 356 in the Calgary zone – our children, parents and teachers, with trepidation, are preparing to go back to school.

It’s no secret why COVID-19 continues to spread. As Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, points out, social gatherings are the primary culprit. Weddings, funerals, family reunions, backyard parties, church gatherings and house parties are all contributing to climbing COVID numbers.

We humans are social by nature. As Hinshaw has pointed out time and again, social connection is vital to our mental health. Isolation can cause a whole host of mental health issues, which of course can be just as dangerous as COVID-19.

In mere days, our community will embark on the largest social gathering of all – the classroom, which is in a contained building full of other classrooms, and each classroom is full of teachers and students who won’t be able to practise effective social distancing simply because the space isn’t there to allow it. If smaller social gatherings (and remember, weddings, family reunions and parties are one-time gatherings – school gatherings happen five days a week) are causing the virus to spread, it’s extremely difficult to imagine the school community won’t suffer the same fate.  

If the unthinkable happens, we may again go through a lockdown. The last one, which was a nightmare we’re still suffering through, took its toll on millions of Canadians. Job loss, untold mental health issues, increases in substance abuse, marked increases in family violence and huge upticks at local food banks are just a handful of the societal costs.  

The economy, of course, has a direct connection to our mental health. It has been decimated and businesses have been shuttered, personal debt has climbed, and hundreds of billions of dollars have been poured into it to keep society from going back to the Dark Ages.  

Behaviours have changed. How people shop, the kind of businesses that will thrive in the new economy, what we choose for our leisure activities, how we travel, the technology we use and things we haven’t yet considered will inescapably lead to a new world order.

The economy needs schools to run. Parents need to work, and having their kids occupied in school five days a week affords them the ability to earn a living. If schools become COVID hotbeds, there will be no choice but to shut them down. Online learning would again become the new norm, and that would have direct consequences on the activity of commerce.

We simply cannot afford COVID flareups in schools. All of us have something at stake, so please, everyone, do your part to mitigate the risk by hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing whenever you can. The importance of conducting yourself accordingly cannot be overstated.