Concern over the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, has prompted some Charlottetown parents to keep their children home from school.
The Public Schools Branch confirmed Monday that several families in Charlottetown-area schools chose to keep their children home late last week. Most of these families are immigrants from China.
"There were absolutely some families … that decided voluntarily to keep their kids home on Thursday and some again on Friday," said Dave Gillis, leader of the corporate services with the Public Schools Branch.
But Gillis said fewer than 10 per cent of children were absent in any one school on Thursday or Friday, below what would be considered unusual.
“Those numbers are actually down a lot (Monday), meaning more kids are in school today than were in school on Thursday or Friday of last week,” Gillis said.
Two parents, Sabrina Chen and Ally Guo, told The Guardian a rumour began circulating last week on the Chinese-language social media app, Wechat, of other Chinese-Canadian residents who had recently returned to P.E.I. after visiting the Wuhan region. This prompted worries that children enrolled at local schools may also have visited the region.
Both Chen and Guo have children attending West Royalty Elementary School. Last Thursday and Friday both kept their children home.
"I think most parents in West Royalty Elementary School are very concerned about the risk," Chen said.
"The public here thinks it's low risk. But for us, I think even low risk is still some risk."
"We're in a much different position than we were 17 years ago in terms of our infection, prevention control measures, our preparedness across the board."
-Dr. Heather Morrison
On Tuesday, health officials confirmed Canada’s third “presumptive” case of the virus in Vancouver. There are no cases of the virus in P.E.I.
In China as of Tuesday afternoon, over 4,500 people have contracted the virus and 106 have died.
Officials with the Department of Health and Wellness in P.E.I. have issued a statement identifying possible symptoms of the virus, including fever over 38 C, coughing and difficulty breathing. The risk for Canadians is low, according to public health officials, but the federal government has advised against travel to China’s Hubei province.
The statement said individuals who have returned from China do not need to self-isolate, wear surgical masks or report to Public Health unless they exhibit symptoms.
However, Chen said many parents who migrated from China have fears of a repeat of the 2003 SARS outbreak. Globally, over 8,000 people became sick as a result of the SARS virus. There were 774 deaths worldwide, including 43 in Canada.
Guo said she has had difficulty finding out what steps public health officials in P.E.I. are taking.
"We know (the risk is) not high. But it's just about what are you going to do to prevent this from happening?” Guo said.
The news from Wuhan has also prompted the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society in Kings county to cancel a retreat scheduled for March. A representative of GEBIS said the retreat was expected to draw close to 200 participants from overseas.
Testing protocol in place
Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.’s chief health officer, said local health officials have been in close contact with national infection control specialists.
"There is national guidance that we're following that is based on European public health infection control guidance," Morrison said.
A testing protocol for the coronavirus is in place on P.E.I. If a case is detected, Morrison said, the tests will be sent off to a microbiology lab in Winnipeg for confirmation.
Possible cases would be assessed in an isolated room by staff equipped with the appropriate mask.
Morrison said all travellers arriving from mainland China in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are being given fact sheets detailing coronavirus symptoms and a local number to call if symptoms are exhibited.
"We're in a much different position than we were 17 years ago in terms of our infection, prevention control measures, our preparedness across the board,” Morrison said.
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