Premier Doug Ford has been getting a lot of free advice, often conflicting, from various health care experts, as well as opposition leaders about how to handle the COVID pandemic, so in an open letter today he has thrown the ball back in their court on the tough issue of whether to reinstate-in-class learning before the end of the current school year. In a three-page letter addressed to a list of stakeholders that includes:
- Children’s Hospitals, including McMaster
- other agencies engaged in child mental health,
- every Public Health Unit in the province
- the Ontario Medical Association
- and the teachers’ unions;
the premier laid out the issues that must be weighed.
He acknowledged the mental health argument that is being used to urge a speedy return to in-person classes:
“We know the mental health, academic and other challenges some students have faced with at-home learning, particularly those from low-income, racialized and high needs neighbourhoods. Those same neighbourhoods are often in COVID hotspots, and we know that school cases are amplified by what is happening in the community. The difficult decision to close schools is not far behind us and just prior to that, in April, schools were the sources of more outbreaks than workplaces or any other location. That is why we want to take a gradual approach to returning.”
But he reiterated his concern expressed last week by the Provincial Science Table that there will be an increase in COVID cases if classes resume before the province is fully vaccinated.
“Recent modelling presented by the Science Table suggested that should Ontario reopen schools to in-class learning we could see an increase of six to 11 per cent in the number of new daily cases.1 We are expecting new modelling this week that puts the range of new cases associated with school reopening between 2,000 to 4,000 cases by the end of July. This is concerning. At the same time we know other jurisdictions are seeing a rapid increase in new, more dangerous variants that are more contagious, make people and children in particular sicker, are potentially more deadly and are more resistant to vaccines.”
The Premier also expressed concerns about some of the new variants of the vaccine which appear to not respond very well to vaccinations, especially in the majority of people in the province who have only had a single dose.
1. Is the reopening of schools for in person learning safe for students?
2 Is the reopening of schools for in person learning safe for teachers and all education staff?
3. 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?
4. 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?
The premier has given the experts until May 28th to provide their input.
The full text of the Premier’s letter is below.