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Studies to look at how many teachers caught COVID-19, pandemic's impact on educators

Last Updated Mar 4, 2021 at 2:03 pm EDT

Personal protection equipment is seen on the teacher's desk in classroom in preparation for the new school year at the Willingdon Elementary School in Montreal, on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

MONTREAL – Researchers in three Canadian provinces are taking a look at how many teachers fell ill with COVID-19 while working during the pandemic.

The coinciding studies, which are taking place in Quebec, Ontario, and B.C., are also trying to understand the impact the pandemic has had on teachers’ mental health.

The results of the studies could help determine where to place teachers in the vaccination lineup and could also help inform decision-making when it comes to prevention strategies in schools and daycares.

All three studies will ask teachers and other educators for blood samples to determine whether or not they were infected by the virus.

“Blood tests are an important part of our study,” explained Dr. Brenda Coleman, Ph.D., a researcher at Sinai Health and Assistant Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto in a release.

“They allow us to determine how many participants have already been exposed to the virus, how many become exposed between enrolment and the end of the study, whether vaccination induces antibodies, and whether antibody levels change over time. We also ask participants to fill out the questionnaires to assess levels of distress over time.”

Then there will be a questionnaire about risks they have faced while teaching in the pandemic and if any preventative measures were taken, be it by them personally or at school and community levels.

“Participation involves completing an online questionnaire to collect information on health, socio-demographics, COVID-19 prevention practices, and mental and emotional health,” explained project lead Dr. Kate Zinszer, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at l’École de santé publique at the Université de Montréal, and researcher at the Public Health Research Institute, in a release.

“We will also be asking whether they have received a vaccine, and which one, and incorporating this information into our analysis.”

The Quebec study will build on an existing government-funded study named EnCORE, which has been determining how many kids have had SARS-CoV-2 infections in four Montreal neighbourhoods. The study will expand to include school staff at the schools and daycares already involved in the EnCORE study.

The Ontario study hopes to enroll up to 7,000 teachers and education workers. In B.C., researchers will focus on staff and students within the Vancouver School District and will look more into the risk of exposure in schools.

“To get a more complete picture of how many people are exposed to the virus in schools, the research team will check blood samples from staff for antibodies indicating a previous exposure,” said lead researcher Dr. Pascal Lavoie, MD, Ph.D., in a release.

He’s an investigator at the B.C. Children’s Hospital Research Institute, a pediatrician, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“Additionally, in the months to come, when a student or staff member has been declared positive for COVID-19, we will test their close contacts using a non-invasive mouth rinse gargle test that was first evaluated and implemented at B.C. Children’s Hospital.”

Canada’s top doctor, Dr. Theresa Tam, says these studies will help us understand more about COVID-19 in education settings and that the research will help develop strategies to support the well-being of teachers and daycare staff.

The federal government is pitching in $2.9 million dollars for these studies, through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF).