Ottawa’s medical officer of health is hoping students return to the classroom at schools across the city next week after six weeks of online learning.
Premier Doug Ford has written a letter to dozens of medical experts and education sector unions asking them for “input on the possible safe return to schools” in June. Dr. Vera Etches was one of the medical experts asked to provide feedback on the possible return of in-person learning.
“I can appreciate this is a difficult decision for the government because they’re getting different inputs and so we’re happy to provide our assessment of the situation here in Ottawa,” said Dr. Etches during an interview on CTV News at Five with Matt Skube.
“The COVID community level has come down, we have the capacity to do the contact tracing, if necessary, in schools and we know that there are multiple layers of protection starting with screening to keep people who are maybe having symptoms of COVID out, and then the masks, the distancing, the cohorts, plus now we do have immunization as an added protection. So, we’re ready.”
Dr. Etches said her colleagues across the province are looking at a “collective response” to Premier Ford’s letter, “that puts forward our rationale to support children’s health by having schools open.”
Skube asked Dr. Etches if she would like to see schools open next week, if possible.
“I do hope so, because this is what we’re working towards schools should be one of the first essential services to open and we’re seeing the harm to children, to families, to parents.”
In the letter, Ford said his government is expecting new modelling to suggest that a return to the classroom could result in daily case counts rising to between 2,000 and 4,000 cases by the end of July.
“In recent weeks, there has been a wide range of advice and commentary around the reopening of schools in Ontario. There is consensus in some quarters on how, when and whether schools should reopen, and diverse and conflicting views in others,” said Ford.
“Keeping children safe is our foremost consideration, which is why as experts in health, public health and education we are seeking your perspective.”
Ford’s letter asks seven questions to health officials and unions:
- Is the reopening of schools for in-person learning safe for students?
- Is the reopening of schools for in-person learning safe for teachers and all education staff?
- There are a growing number of cases in Ontario of the variant first identified in India (B.1.617). Does this mutation pose an increased risk to students and education workers?
- The modelling from the Ontario Science Table has suggested that reopening schools will lead to an increase in cases in the province of Ontario, is this acceptable and safe?
- Other countries are warning mutations including the B.1.617 variant are putting children at much greater risk and are shutting schools down. Is this concern not shared by medical experts in Ontario?
- Should teachers be fully vaccinated before resuming in-class lessons and if not, is one dose sufficient?
- Under Ontarios reopening plan, indoor gatherings wont commence until July. Should indoor school instruction resume before then?
On Wednesday, Etches and Mayor Jim Watson called on the Ontario government to reopen schools for the final month of the school year.
“We’ve reopened golf courses, we’ve reopened basketball courts, we’ve reopened tennis courts Premier Ford, now is the time to reopen schools,” said Watson.
“It’s time to allow kids to see their friends and their teachers, allow kids some sense of normalcy and routine and allow kids graduating to say goodbye to their friends and teachers.”
Ontario schools have been closed to in-person learning since the spring break in mid-April.
On Tuesday, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, the chair of the Council of Medical Officers of Health, and the medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, told Newstalk 580 CFRA that an announcement on schools is “imminent” and he suggested students in some parts of Ontario could be back to class as early as Monday.
With files from CTV News Ottawa’s Ted Raymond and CP24 web content writer Chris Fox.