Record number of Quebec children home sick from school

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Record number of sick children staying home from school in Quebec
WATCH: For a few weeks now, children have been falling ill to a cocktail of respiratory viruses. Pediatric emergency rooms have been bursting at the seams dealing with a surge of a triple threat namely COVID-19, the flu and RSV. Quebec schools have been seeing a record number of children out sick, more than last winter during the Omicron wave, when health measures were still in place. Global's Felicia Parrillo reports.

Madame Amiri’s Grade 1 French class is less crowded than usual.

There has been a noticeable amount of absentees lately, as there have been in the entire elementary school.

“It is definitely probably more than we’d experience during the COVID time,” said Despina Michakis, principal of Dunrae Gardens Elementary.

READ MORE: Quebec sets up crisis management team as Montreal hospital ERs face overcrowding

Michakis says the school has had some cases of COVID-19, but they’ve especially noticed an increase flu cases.

It’s been hitting students here over the last few weeks, as well as staff.

“There are staff who are getting the flu – it is flu season,” said Michakis. “And when they do [get sick] they’ll either send their plan – or they have an emergency folder that they’ll supply to the substitute teacher.”

Dunrae Gardens isn’t the only school seeing a surge of empty desks.

READ MORE: Soaring RSV rates in parts of Quebec lead national cases, strain hospital staff

According to Quebec’s Education Ministry, over 150,000 were absent from school on November 21.

That’s about 12 per cent of the province’s preschool, elementary, secondary, vocational training, and adult education students.

The number is higher than last winter – during the Omicron surge – when health measures were still in place.

The ministry had then recorded around 130,000 students absent from school.

“If you want to compare COVID in school-aged children to what we’re experiencing now – it is far worse now than what we ever experienced with COVID,” said Dr. Earl Rubin, Infectious Diseases Director at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

READ MORE: ER alert over at Montreal children’s hospital after weekend overcrowding

Rubin says one of the reasons behind the recent surge of sick children is that many of them were protected by health measures over the last few years – their immune systems were simply not exposed to viruses like influenza and RSV.

He says there are things parents can do to help prevent the spread of viruses, such as not sending your child to school if they’re sick.

But other than that, he says these viruses are seasonal and the season is just getting started.

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