Meadow Lake’s top doctor believes the Northwest School Division needs a lesson in common sense.

Recently, Dr. Gavin Van de Venter, chief of staff at the Meadow Lake Hospital, expressed his concern about the fact the NWSD is the only school division of the 27 throughout the province not to have some sort of COVID-19 vaccine or negative test policy in place for teachers and staff.

“The Government of Saskatchewan has let us in the medical fraternity down, ignoring our recommendations and making decisions that have worsened our fourth wave and continue to do so,” Va de Venter said. “By extension, they have let our province down and not protected us from this disease as is their mandate. On a local level, we have seen an outbreak at Carpenter High School and, presently, our teachers, support staff and volunteers are not mandated to be vaccinated when there are many boards in the province that are mandating vaccines, and setting a precedent we can follow.”

Van de Venter went on to say this, along with the background of being the area in the province with the poorest vaccination rate, reinforces his recommendation the school board “do the right thing.”

“We ask the vaccine be mandated for teachers, support staff and volunteers in our schools,” he said. “After all the lives that have been so severely influenced by this virus, we still do not have the courage to do the right thing.”

This fall, the Saskatchewan School Boards Association left it up to individual school divisions to decide if they would implement a vaccine policy for teachers. NWSD director of education Duane Hauk confirmed the local school division does not have a policy regarding proof of vaccination or negative COVID tests for staff.

“The board continues to discuss this topic,” he noted. “I am unable to speak for individual board members regarding rationale for policy decisions.”

Someone who did speak to the matter, however, was NWSD board chair Glen Winkler.

“It’s a very divisive decision for the board just like it is in society, and right now we are the only school division in the province not working on a policy that insist there be vaccines or testing for staff,” Winkler said. “There was a motion to go that direction, but the vote ended up being 5-5 and it wasn’t enough to carry. It’s a recorded vote taken at a public meeting, but we are having another meeting Nov. 16.”

Winkler said, at this meeting, the board will review how to best keep students and staff safe.

“If we can’t do one thing is there another we should be looking at?” he wondered. “There’s been the outbreak at Carpenter, kids have had to stay home and isolate when there are cases, and teachers are getting COVID and missing work. COVID continues to be a challenge for education in terms of how to keep things running smoothly. We’ll take another look at it.”

Winkler also added he is uncertain as to where things will go from here.

“Board members hold their positions quite strongly, and a lot of people are communicating with us their arguments for both sides,” he said. “We’ll sort through it and do the best we can to make our schools safe.”

Meanwhile, Van de Venter said the fourth wave of COVID-19 is seemingly slowing down.

“But, we are still encouraging people to vaccinate in order to prevent a fifth wave,” he said. “Many are now receiving their booster vaccine, but the resistance to the vaccination is still high. Reasons vary as to why people don’t want to or are hesitant to vaccinate. With our rates being low, we have not reached herd immunity as hoped. There is ample evidence to show vaccinated immunity is five to six times more effective to protect from COVID infection than neutral immunity from being infected with COVID-19.”

by Phil Ambroziak