Due to the Omicron variant, Ontario and Quebec public schools have transitioned to online learning until January 17.
In Manitoba, all students except K-6 children of critical-service workers and K-12 students of "high risk" or with special learning needs will be taught online until January 17.
But in Canada's three westernmost provinces—B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan—all students from K-12 are scheduled to return to classroom instruction today (January 10).
B.C.'s "enhanced safety measures" include making three-layered masks available, restricting visitors, holding virtual assemblies, and staggering breaks.
B.C.'s approach is not going over with a growing number of very well-educated people.
Some are pointing to the rising U.S. hospitalization rate of people under the age of 18 with the Omicron variant of COVID-19. They say this justifies closing schools right now in B.C.
Others are upset over the lack of carbon-dioxide monitors and HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters in B.C. classrooms. Quebec has installed these monitors in its classrooms and Ontario has put HEPA filters in all learning environments.
Below are just a few of the comments over social media by those who feel that Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix could be doing more to contain the worst effects of the pandemic.
According to a Leger poll for Postmedia, Henry's approval rating is at 62 percent, which is down from 69 percent in June. Dix's approval rating is at 55 percent, down from 69 percent in June.
The public often perceives that the opposition to policies advanced by Henry and Dix is coming from vocal right wingers who falsely liken COVID-19 to the sniffles or a cold or the flu. (COVID-19 is not just a respiratory disease; the virus can also attack the cardiovascular system, internal organs, and the brain.)
The problem that Henry and Dix have is that they're also losing the confidence of some of the very people who were most supportive of them in 2020. Back then, Henry and Dix had the wind at their back when they were facing down the know-nothings who thought fears about the virus were overblown.
How did Henry and Dix get in this situation? It's simple: by underplaying the mostly airborne nature of the disease's transmission.
That's reflected in the decisions around HEPA filters and carbon-dioxide monitors in classrooms.
It's on display whenever you see a bus driver not wearing a mask because they're under the impression that Plexiglas barriers are sufficient.
Casinos remain open in B.C.
And N95 masks are not being made available to teachers, let alone health-care workers at COVID vaccination and testing centres.
It's gotten so bad that those who oppose vaccine mandates and receiving COVID-19 vaccines have taken to quoting public-health officials to justify their positions.
Those opposed to wearing masks to prevent COVID-19 transmission cite Henry's comment in paragraph 178 of this 2015 Ontario arbitration decision, in which she mentioned "scant evidence about the value of masks in preventing the transmission of influenza".
They'll point out that Henry went mask-free at a B.C. Lions game. Or that as small businesses have been hammered for extended periods, the lifting of one public-health order coincided with the Canucks' home opener and the imposition of another wasn't going to take effect until after two more Canucks home games.
I hate to say it, but there have been times when Henry and Dix have actually given the antivaccine movement oxygen.
That's most notable in their refusal to launch a massive government advertising campaign to educate the public about how COVID-19 is transmitted.
This is something that deeply troubles Jennifer Heighton, a Grade 5 teacher and cofounder of Safe Schools Coalition B.C.
"I do think a communications campaign—a good one about how COVID-19 spreads—would be extremely advantageous for B.C.," Heighton said. "And it hasn’t been done. They have not educated the public that it spreads through the air—that it’s like smoke."
She added that she's seen excellent public-education campaigns from the U.K., which show how people can enhance their safety when they open windows.
Below is a November 2020 ad in the U.K., created as scientists were becoming far more aware of the airborne nature of COVID-19.
Below is another U.K. government ad posted on YouTube a year later. It is even more emphatic about airborne transmission of COVID-19.
These types of campaigns have not been launched by the B.C. government.
"There is a lot that the B.C. public doesn't know," Heighton said.
Moreover, she maintained that had this information been conveyed earlier in a clear manner, it would have likely reduced the transmission of COVID-19. That's because she believes that many people will do the right thing if they're provided with accurate information.
"I do think there should be some accountability and there should be some reckoning for the decisions that have been made," Heighton said.