Doctors, opposition leaders weigh in on whether premier should keep schools open

Letter signed by more than 500 Ontario doctors says schools should remain open in January

There is no shortage of advice being directed at Premier Doug Ford about whether schools should remain open in January.

Ford said on Tuesday the government will be having an announcement in the “next couple of days.”

Despite the rapid spread of the more infectious Omicron variant, more than 500 Ontario doctors have penned an open letter asking the province to keep schools open.

In a letter to the premier, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, the doctors say closing schools should not be used as a means to control the spread of the virus.

“Children and youth have experienced significant harms since March 2020 due to prolonged school closures, and we now must prioritize the needs of children and youth,” the letter states.

“School closures should no longer be a knee-jerk reaction to rising case counts. Numerous jurisdictions have committed to keeping schools open and we need to do the same.”

The doctors who signed the letter list a number of ways to keep schools open, including more frequent use of rapid antigen testing.

The physicians also describe in grim detail how school closures have impacted the academic, social and emotional, and physical and mental health of children and youth resulting in higher rates of eating disorders, psychiatric illness, and food insecurity.

They also point out that while Omicron is more contagious, it has not yet been found to be more dangerous.

“People infected with Omicron were 15-20 per cent less likely to attend hospital in the UK and 80 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital in South Africa,” the letter states.

“Canadian hospitalization rates of less than one per cent have been observed, with a mortality rate of zero per cent thus far.”

The doctors state that the province needs to re-write the popular phrase, “schools should be the last to close and the first to open” and replace it with “schools are an essential service and must remain open.”

Meanwhile, political leaders at Queen’s Park took the premier to task for what they feel is his slow decision-making response about a return to school on Jan. 3.

Liberal leader Stephen Del Duca says the government hasn’t taken enough measures to make schools safer after closing them for long periods of time earlier in the pandemic.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath says it’s “ridiculous” that families are still in the dark with classes set to resume in a few days. She says the government should have used the holiday period to make schools safer with plans for regular testing, better masks and improved ventilation.