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Influenza combined with other viruses create a dire situation in New Brunswick


As influenza, RSV and COVID-19 continue to sweep through the region, Tuesday is the first day in three weeks that Cathleen MacKenzie doesn’t have at least one child home sick from school.

“It seems like we have a brand new virus every 10 to14 days,” said MacKenzie. “So, some of the kids are getting over the previous virus, some are going into a new one.” 

MacKenzie has five children in school, one of which also attends daycare and her spouse is also in school. In general, she says her family is pretty healthy, but these last two-and-a-half months have been something she’s never seen before.

“It’s the very, very first time,” she said. “I’ve always chuckled at parents who say their kids are sick this often, I’m not sure I believed them. So, maybe it’s karma, I don’t know, but we typically have a very strong immune system.”

Right now, MacKenzie says she can’t send her kids to school until they’ve been fever free for 24 hours and it’s directly impacting their grades. However, she doesn’t know what else to do as she doesn’t want to risk passing a virus onto someone else.

The Anglophone East School District released data on its student absences for the month of October. On average, kids in Kindergarten to Grade 8 missed 1.8 days of school and grades nine to 12 missed 2.3 days.

However, sickness and absenteeism isn’t just affecting the students.

“It’s really kind of been a hidden reality and it is not business as usual in our schools,” said the president of the New Brunswick Teachers Association, Connie Keating. 

Keating says right now there has been an average of four unfilled absences a day, but some days, it can climb into the double digits. With no supply teachers available, she says guidance counsellors and principals are stepping up to fill the daily gaps.

“Currently our school leaders are doing the best they can, they’ve become more like crisis managers as opposed to educational leaders and we need to have actions in place across the board,” said Keating.

She adds that there are many layers to the current crisis, but studies done before the COVID-19 pandemic had pointed out that schools were already under resourced.

“We’ve identified a need for a provincial task force to identify immediate actions to address the current crisis in schools and so, we need to bring together our leaders in school districts, we need to be able to sit down with EECD, our department of education, and we need to problem solve this together,” said Keating. 

For MacKenzie, concern around grades and absenteeism at school is growing and with sick season just getting underway, it’s worrisome to think about what’s to come.

“My spouse is high risk for influenza and COVID,” she said. “COVID is always a concern, but this year, influenza has actually been a concern for the first time.”

“With our immune system already being low and the fact that there’s already so many hospitalizations in the area, and we both know how the staffing issue is at the hospitals with extremely long wait times. So, if it does become serious with influenza season here, I’m not looking forward to what that would look like for us,” she added.

Meantime, the province of New Brunswick has released new influenza numbers this week from the end of November.

“Physicians around the province are concerned,” said Dr. Michele Michaud with the New Brunswick Society. “We’re seeing more ER visits, we are already crowded in the ERs, hospitalization rates are higher."

Since the beginning of the season, 975 influenza cases have been reported, 218 ended up in hospital and 14 people have already died from the flu this year.

“I think it’s more sad than surprising,” Michaud said, in reaction to the recent numbers. “I think we need to think of all of those families and wonder if we’re responsible in some ways and what we can do to avoid those things.”

Michaud says it's up to the public to help where they can with mask wearing, hand washing and staying home if they are unwell. Top Stories

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