Provincial medical officers of health urge premier to reopen schools first before other sectors

Call comes as COVID numbers are decreasing

The Ford government in a letter from Ontario’s medical officers of health is being urged to reopen all schools before reopening other sectors of the province as COVID-19 transmission appears to be decreasing.

In a letter penned to Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Health Minister Christine Elliott on Friday, Chair of The Council of Ontario Medical Officers Dr. Paul Roumeliotis says the “safe reopening of all schools in Ontario is essential” even before community restrictions are lifted.

The council approved four recommendations the government should consider for the safe opening of schools: interventions to reduce risks for staff, maximize infection prevention and control measures, utilize resources for the biggest gains and reduce community transmission.

Roumeliotis says it’s critical that there is the capacity to do complete case and contact follow up in school settings, and there should be enhanced staff safety protocols by limiting unprotected staff interactions, such as in lunchrooms and during breaks.

The council also calls on the government to support active screening in schools and that all communities should have same day access to COVID-19 testing, especially since highly contagious variants have been detected in the province.

Roumeliotis says they do not support testing of asymptomatic staff and students because it “identifies few additional cases.”

Even though COVID variants are spreading across the province, the council does not believe “they present a reason to delay a return to the classroom.”

In an email to CP24 on Saturday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government welcomes the council’s support.

“We welcome the support of Medical Officers of Health across Ontario as we work to get all schools open, for all children, in all regions of our province,” Lecce said.

“We will continue to be guided by leading scientific and paediatric leaders to ensure we keep schools safe,” he added in his statement to CP24.

In-person learning resumed at northern Ontario schools on Jan. 11 due to lower caseloads.

Schools in seven public health units reopened on Jan. 25 and schools in four other public health units reopen Monday.

Where schools are open for in-person learning:

  • northern Ontario (as of Jan. 11)
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (as of Jan. 25)
  • Leeds, Grenville and Lanark (as of Jan. 25)
  • Peterborough (as of Jan. 25)
  • Renfrew County and District Public Health Unit (as of Jan. 25)
  • Hastings and Prince Edward Counties (as of Jan. 25)
  • Grey Bruce (as of Jan. 25)
  • Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge (as of Jan 25)
  • Southwestern Health Unit (as of Feb. 1)
  • Eastern Ontario (as of Feb. 1)
  • Ottawa (as of Feb. 1)
  • Middlesex – London (as of Feb. 1)

There is no timeline when students in Simcoe-Muskoka will return to in-person learning. The province has said student’s in COVID-19 hotspots – Hamilton, Windsor-Essex, Toronto, Peel and York – will be learning remotely until at least Feb. 10.