Premier François Legault said for the good of children, especially those with learning difficulties, the Quebec government is moving forward with a plan to begin opening schools.
In his daily briefing Monday, the premier said five or six months without attending school could pose serious, long-term consequences for many children.
“Life must go on,” he said.
Elementary schools and daycares will begin reopening on May 11 outside of the greater Montreal region and on May 19 on the island of Montreal, Laval and in surrounding suburbs.
All other schools — high schools, colleges and universities — won’t reopen until late August.
But Legault said that timeline will depend on the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 remaining stable. There are now 1,541 people in hospital — an increase of 23 over Sunday. Some 210 patients are in intensive care, down five from yesterday.
Eighty-four more deaths have been recorded in the past 24 hours. Of those, 79 were residents of long-term-care homes, or CHSLDs.
The premier has spent the past several weeks pleading with various medical professions for help, especially in those besieged CHSLDs. He said that critical short-staffing situation is beginning to ease.
“It’s like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders,” Legault said at the government’s daily news conference.
This is a developing story and will be updated. Please read our earlier story, below.
Last week, Legault provided hints about what the plan to reopen schools could entail. Those included the possibility that schools outside the greater Montreal area, where there have been fewer cases of COVID-19, will be the first to resume activities.
He also said parents won’t be obliged to send their kids back to school, and schools will be given two weeks’ notice so they can make changes to comply with physical-distancing rules.
Legault is expected to announce a plan to reopen the economy later this week.
As of Sunday, there were 24,107 confirmed cases in the province. More than 1,500 people have died — the vast majority, seniors in care.
In announcing its plan to reopen schools, the Legault government will be confronted with concerns from parents and education groups who worry it is moving too quickly. There are many unanswered questions about the role herd immunity will play in the plan.
Russell Copeman, executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association, said schools should reopen only if they meet very clear health and public safety guidelines. His concerns about safety aren’t limited to the classroom.
He said lunch monitors and school bus drivers are often older and could be at greater risk.
“Our lunchtime monitors, after school monitors, pre-school monitors — many of those people are retired,” he said.
“So all of those things have to be worked out.”
On the weekend, Legault’s office issued a statement reiterating that its plan to open schools will be crafted under the direction of the province’s Public Health Department.
“The reality is that the virus will be part of our daily life for many months to come,” the statement read. “Life has to start gradually, there would be significant risks of keeping Quebecers confined for too long, especially in mental health.”
Provinces have taken different approaches to schools. New Brunswick, which announced a four-step COVID-19 recovery plan last week, will maintain home learning and opted to close schools for the rest of the school year.
Saskatchewan also outlined a detailed plan last week, but schools weren’t mentioned and are unlikely to open soon.
Ontario announced Sunday that public schools will remain closed in the province through May 31.
Long-term care homes still struggling
The situation remains critical in many of the province’s long-term care and seniors’ homes, where most of the deaths have occurred.
With thousands of health-care staff infected, some replacement workers say they’re being dropped into the long-term care homes without adequate training.
“There’s despair in everybody’s faces,” says one volunteer.
Others with experience in CHSLDs say they are not getting the support they need — leading some to quit.
Montrealers co-operating, mostly
Montreal police have issued 1,841 tickets since physical-distancing measures were put in place. Despite that though, SPVM spokesperson André Durocher said Montrealers have been co-operative for the most part.
“Obviously, when it’s nice out, there are more people and it can be harder to keep your distance, but, despite everything, it’s still been pretty acceptable,” Durocher told Radio-Canada’s Tout un matin.
Durocher reminded people that they are not allowed to invite friends or family members into their homes or backyards, even if they plan on maintaining a two-metre distance from each other.
Instead, he suggested socializing with neighbours from their respective balconies.