COVID-19 update – Larger gatherings, walk-in testing, school re-entry plan

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As the new school year approaches, teachers, schools and elected officials need time to prepare.

Allyson Beauregard

QUÉBEC – Over the last few weeks, the provincial government has continued de-confinement measures related to the coronavirus pandemic, including mandatory mask wearing in enclosed public spaces since July 18 and allowing larger public gatherings.
As of August 3, the province’s public health department gave the green light for up to 250 people to gather in public places indoors and outdoors, if hygiene and social distancing measures are in place, and masks are worn inside. The previous maximum was 50. However, the eased restriction doesn’t apply to private residences (homes, backyards, cottages, etc.), where the maximum continues to be 10 people from up to three different households.
When the mandatory mask-wearing rule came into effect, Québec said
individuals would eventually be fined for not complying, except those with health conditions or under 12 years old, but on August 3 the government stated that authorities won’t be issuing fines for now. However, businesses can be reprimanded for not enforcing the new measure.
Open testing
COVID-19 testing is now available without an appointment in various
locations throughout the Outaouais, including the Mansfield CLSC on Wednesdays from 7 to 9 am. This is in addition to the testing available by appointment at 1-877-
644-4545.
Back-to-school protocols
In mid-June, provincial authorities unveiled an outline of the back-to-school plan for the fall, but didn’t provide any further details until August 10, leaving
parents, teachers, schools and elected officials with many unanswered questions as they attempted to prepare. The Québec Provincial Association of Teachers is calling for classes to be postponed until after Labour Day to give teams more time to prepare.
“For the WQSB, there are many ongoing issues to deal with like busing, available space for organizing students, and of course, the safety of staff who will have to be very diligent, as well as students,” said Alain Guy, Western Quebec School Board Commissioner, who noted he isn’t personally comfortable with the way Quebec has proceeded with deconfinement.
Jean-Francois Roberge, Quebec’s Minister of Education, said June’s plan remains mostly the same except for a few adjustments: masks are mandatory for students 10 years old and older (Grade 5 and up) in common areas and on buses, but not in classrooms; there will be no “sub-groups” within classrooms and students within the same class don’t have to social distance but must maintain a one meter distance from students in other groups; and distance learning is an option for students with health conditions or those who live with vulnerable family members.
Teachers will move classrooms while each class will remain in place except for subjects like music and physical education.
All parents will be informed if a student within the school tests positive for COVID, and plans will be in place for a seamless transition to distance learning if a classroom or school has to be temporarily closed. In Secondary IV and V, schools are able to offer a mix of on-site and distance learning if schedules can’t be organized to maintain stable groups; 50% in-school learning
is required.
Whenever possible, students and staff will have to stay two metres apart, except for preschool where physical distancing will not be required between students and teachers. However, personal protective equipment will be mandatory for
preschool teachers. In the classroom, staff members at other levels of education are not required to wear masks if they remain 2 metres away from students.
CEGEP and university students will do a mix of in-school and online learning.
Provincial and federal funding
In mid-July, the federal government announced more than $19 billion in funding through the Safe Restart Agreement to help provinces and municipalities safely restart their economies and increase resiliency to possible future waves of the virus.
“It will support measures to increase testing and contact tracing, support the capacity of our health care systems, including services for people facing mental health challenges. It will also assist with the procurement of personal protective equipment for essential workers and the most vulnerable,” said Pontiac MP Will Amos. Municipalities can also use the money to deliver essential services like infrastructure planning and public transit. For every $1 the feds invest, Québec will also invest $1.
On July 17, the feds also announced changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to broaden the program’s reach: extending it until December 19, 2020;
making the subsidy accessible to a broader range of employers by including those with a revenue decline of less than 30% and providing a gradually decreasing base subsidy to all qualifying employers; and introducing a top-up subsidy of up to an additional 25% for employers most adversely affected by the pandemic.
Since its launch, about 3 million Canadian employees have benefited from CEWS, and that number continues to grow.
The numbers
As of press time, there were over 60,500 cases of the virus in Québec (5,695 deaths). The Outaouais now has 692 cases (625 recovered) and 33 deaths. The Municipality of Pontiac has <5 cases while the MRC Pontiac has 0.