We are physicians from a variety of disciplines who want to give a voice to the children of Québec, as they have been without an official defender of their rights throughout the public discourse surrounding this pandemic. Based on our evaluation of the different health risks, children are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the preventative measures in effect. While it was pertinent to exercise great caution at the beginning of this unprecedented health crisis, the scientific community now has the perspective to be able to suggest adjustments with respect to schools, daycares and day camps.
Over the past three months, the scientific literature and epidemiological data surrounding COVID-19 has been growing with each passing day. Our clinical experience, and that of our colleagues around the world, have demonstrated that children are largely spared from this virus. They are less likely to catch the virus and rarely have serious complications. We are keeping a close eye on the rare outbreaks in the daycares and schools of Québec and thus far they have not been significant. The data shows that there is very little transmission of the virus from children to adults and therefore has minimal impact on the health of the population at large. If there will be a second wave of coronavirus, it seems unlikely that it would be the result of the loosening of the stringent guidelines currently in effect. We are of the opinion that the health and safety of childcare providers and teachers must remain a top priority. Nevertheless, we believe that it is possible to ease certain restrictions for children without compromising the safety of adults.
Day after day, we are witnessing the significant repercussions to the health and well-being of many children as a result of the social distancing recommended by public health. The preventative measures that the the Ministère de la Famille and the Ministère de l’Éducation are requiring to be implemented seem preposterous to many experts, as well as parents, childcare providers, teachers and administrators. Here are a few examples:
A school draws squares on the ground in which the children must remain during recess, eliminating any direct interaction with their friends. A daycare provider spends her time policing a 2-meter separation between toddlers, all the while cloaked in a mask and visor. Remember that interaction between children and free play are essential for the development of language and social skills.
Future day camp counsellors are being instructed that they will not be allowed to help a child put on their sunscreen or fill their water bottle, even during a heatwave. A daycare bans books, puzzles, crayons, dolls and balls under the pretense that they cannot be easily disinfected. For months children will be deprived of many enjoyable educational experiences even though transmission of the virus through contaminated objects is ill-defined and frequent handwashing remains the cornerstone of prevention.
Mr. Legault, is this the new norm that we wish for our children? A few months in the life of a 2-year-old will make all the difference. We are cognizant that your government has already implemented several directives to support families, but as experts in children’s health, we remain concerned about their short- and long-term development. We therefore ask that the preventative measures are quickly curtailed in schools, daycares and day camps. More specifically, we are requesting the following changes:
- That the rule of two meters of physical distancing does not apply to children under 12 years of age.
- That wearing a mask is not required for children under 12 years of age.
- That protective eyewear (instead of visors) and transparent masks are distributed to allow children to see the lips and smiles of adults.
- That all individual and group sports activities for children and adolescents resume as soon as possible.
- That the use and sharing of educational materials and toys is permitted without the need for disinfection between each use.
Mr. Premier, you have always claimed to be a strong advocate for children, now it is time to act by easing the restrictions that have been imposed upon them.
Dr Catherine Dea, Médecin, Université de Montréal
Dr Catherine Dery, Pédiatre, CH Beauce-Etchemin
Dr Véronique Groleau, Gastroentérologue Pédiatre, CHU Ste-Justine
Dr Annie Janvier, Néonatologiste, CHU Ste-Justine
Dr Francis Livernoche, Pédiatre social, CHU Sherbrooke
Dr Karine Pépin, Pédiatre, CHU Ste-Justine
Dr Irena Stikarovska, Pédo-psychiatre, CHU Ste-Justine
Dr Caroline Têtu, Psychiatre, Châteauguay
Dr Suzanne Vaillancourt, Urgentologue Pédiatre, CUSUM
Dr Isabelle Viel-Thériault, Infectiologue Pédiatre, CHUL