CALGARY — The parents of a seven-year-old Calgary girl living with Cystic Fibrosis believe the Alberta government is ignoring challenges faced by families with high-risk children during the pandemic, especially with the decision to end protocols to test, trace and isolate later this month.
“We don’t even know if we can send our kids to school safely this year and it’s just a huge cost to theirs and our mental health,” said mom, Renee Berdan.
Berdan’s daughter, Greta, was diagnosed with the genetic illness that affects the lungs and digestive system at three weeks old. She spends around two hours each day doing breathing exercises and treatments to keep her lungs healthy.
The Berdan’s also have an eight-year-old son, Lennan.
“Life has changed during COVID in a way where we find ourselves more isolated than we ever have been,” said dad, Vince Berdan.
The couple has had to say no to several extracurricular activities to protect their children from possible exposure to the virus, especially with one child with a compromised immune system.
The Berdans say they are voicing their concerns hoping the provincial government will continue testing and mandate quarantine for those who test positive for COVID-19 until children who aren’t currently eligible can get vaccinated.
The province announced it will remove all isolation requirements and end all routing testing for the virus by the end of the month.
“The announcement that they made was like the worst case scenario for us,” said Renee.
“Now instead of knowing where the virus is and knowing who has it and at least being able to trust the people that are sick are staying home, we now feel like it’s everywhere and anybody could have it, so who can we see, who can we not see, when we’ve already had to stay isolated as much as we realistically can with two busy kids.”
The couple say they don’t want to stay silent so the province hears concerns from families like theirs.
“It’s hard to navigate the situation when you feel like you have no tools and when you have no way of knowing who is sick and who’s not sick, you really feel like you’re in the dark,” said Vince.
“It’s really quite a grave risk with lifting all of these monitoring measures,” said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, a pediatrician and assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at University of Alberta.
Ladha said the risk is highest to those who are unvaccinated, including children under 12 and those who have medical conditions or are immunocompromised.
“When were remove these monitoring measures which are the basic pillars of public health, we’re also taking away the ability of individuals and families to make risk-based decisions,” she said.
“What happens is when people don’t know how many cases are in the community and they also don’t know if the person sitting beside them is COVID positive, they’re reluctant to participate in everyday activities, they’re also reluctant to engage their children in those activities.”
Ladha says the province is making a risky gamble now especially since results for vaccine trials on children are expected to be released soon. She is among the medical professionals in the province pushing to have the announcement reversed.
“We believe that it will be very difficult to keep our vulnerable safe, our children safe, our children with medical conditions safe, should the government go ahead and eliminate testing in the community, eliminate mandatory isolation, eliminate contact tracing.”
She said if the decision is not reversed, children should be equipped with the best mask possible, increase hand washing and sanitization, maintain physical distancing, limit indoor activities and keep cohorts small.
PROVINCE CONSIDERING RISKS TO CHILDREN
Alberta’s top doctor said as a mother with two children under 12, safety in schools is an issue she takes seriously.
“The ability to disrupt that school experience as minimally as possible is the goal,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
Hinshaw says interventions, such as sending entire classes home to quarantine if one child was infectious, were needed before vaccines were widely available. But the impact has been disruptive for children’s learning and their mental health.
“The majority of kids who we’ve seen in terms of kid cases get it from an adult. So the best thing we can do is have adults around them vaccinated,” she said.
Hinshaw says the province is in the process of planning interventions for schools.
“If we do see a surge of respiratory illness, we can put in place temporary masking, temporary enhanced cleaning, temporary enhanced screening so that we’re responding not just to COVID but to things like seasonal influenza that also cause severe illness in kids,” she said.
Hinshaw says COVID-19 is not the only risk kids face.
“I’m not saying we should ignore any of these risks, but how do we live with COVID in a way that minimizes the disruption and focuses the interventions in the places and times when that risk is highest to protect our kids, to protect those around them without again, focusing on COVID and kind of excluding our concerns about other things,” said Hinshaw.
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