Closing system

Ontario Releases Back to School Plan with Few Details to Manage COVID-19 Cases and Outbreaks

Ontario students will return to class full-time in September, with distance learning remaining an option, the province has confirmed in its official back-to-school strategy – but the plan is limited in detail on how schools will manage COVID-19 cases and outbreaks.

Staff and students in grades one and up are required to wear masks indoors, with the exception of meal breaks and low-contact physical activities, and self-screening will be required prior to entering school facilities .

Team sports, field trips and extracurricular activities will return, along with assemblies and recess. Students can also share materials such as toys and art supplies and be in shared spaces, including libraries and cafeterias.

But the 29-page document released on Tuesday does not contain a protocol for handling COVID-19 outbreaks, nor does it set a threshold for closing schools or classrooms.

You can read Ontario’s back to school plan in full at the bottom of this story.

“Schools are safer where we maintain high rates of community immunity,” Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore told a news conference.

However, the plan also does not indicate what level of transmission in the surrounding community could affect a school’s operations.

“We must standardize COVID-19 for schools”: the best doctor

Moore stressed the importance of vaccinations to avoid a possible spike in cases due to the delta variant in the fall. But when asked under what circumstances schools might be forced to close, he replied, “I really don’t see our schools closing.”

“I think we need to standardize COVID-19 for schools,” he added, similar to the usual increase in influenza cases each season.

WATCH | Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore on Ontario’s back-to-school plan:

Ontario’s top doctor, Dr. Kieran Moore, answered questions about the province’s back-to-school plan on Tuesday. When asked under what circumstances schools might be forced to close, he replied, “I really don’t see our schools closing.” 1:18

More than 4,800 Ontario schools have had to close due to COVID-19 cases at some point from September to June, and 11,462 students have contracted the virus, according to provincial data.

“To prepare for a potential closure, school boards should have plans in place to move quickly to distance learning to ensure learning continuity for students,” the plan says.

When asked why the province isn’t tracking every student’s immunizations, Moore said information would be gathered if there was an outbreak that needed to be investigated.

As for testing, Moore said the list of symptoms of concern is being narrowed down to focus on symptoms more specific to COVID, such as loss of taste. That being said, the province is considering other testing options such as the swish-and-spit method or swabbing only on the front of the nose, he said.

WATCH | Opposition parties say Ontario’s COVID-19 back-to-school plan is insufficient:

Ontario NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles and Ontario Liberal House Leader and Health Critic John Fraser Join Power & Politics in Responding to Back to School Plan Ontario. 6:42

For high school students, school boards have been instructed to set up schedules that do not include more than two lessons at a time for high school students in the fall semester “in order to maintain the possibility of returning to more measures. restrictive, if necessary ”.

Music programs will be allowed in well ventilated areas, with singing and wind instruments allowed in grouped groups with a distance of at least two meters.

The final page of the plan, titled “Managing COVID-19 in Schools,” says, “This section is forthcoming,” adding that it will build on guidance provided during the 2020-21 school year.

Teachers union considers plan “incomplete”

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) called the Ford government’s plan “incomplete and inadequate.”

In a statement reacting to the strategy, the teachers’ union said the plan “relaxes safety precautions” and will likely lead to more epidemics and disruption to in-person learning.

“It is clear that Premier Ford and Minister Lecce rely solely on vaccinations to ensure a safe reopening of schools and a return to extracurricular activities. What they seem to have forgotten is that Ontarians remain at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, and most children are not eligible for vaccines, ”said ETFO President Sam Hammond .

The union said it favors in-person teaching and wants the government to reduce class sizes to ensure physical distancing, make masking mandatory for all students, including kindergarten, provide asymptomatic tests on up in high-risk settings and immediately reverse an amount of $ 800 million. reduction of public education for the next school year, among other measures.

Meanwhile, Dr Doris Grinspun, executive director of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, said it was a mistake for the province not to make vaccines mandatory for education workers. and students over 12 years old.

“The schools will have the largest gathering of people in the country in general and in Ontario in particular because we are such a large population,” Grinspun told CBC News.

In an open letter sent to Ford last week, the group of nurses called for mandatory vaccinations, as well as smaller classes and improved ventilation.

The group also wants the province to provide funding to create permanent positions for 625 public health nurses in Ontario schools.

Key points of Ontario’s back-to-school plan:

  • Students in Grades 1 to 12 are required to wear masks indoors (with exceptions such as low-contact physical activity and during meals).

  • Staff and students are required to screen themselves daily using the tool provided by the province, although in some cases schools may be asked to do enhanced screening.

  • Anyone showing symptoms according to the provincial screening tool should not go to school and potentially get tested or see a doctor.

  • School boards are expected to have all ventilation systems inspected and in good repair before the start of the school year.

  • School boards without mechanical ventilation (those who rely on windows to bring in fresh air) are expected to place self-contained high efficiency particulate filter (HEPA) units in all classrooms.

Earlier today, the Ontario NDP called on the province to require education workers who are not fully immunized take rapid COVID-19 tests when students return to school in the ‘fall.

Rapid tests, which Ford dubbed “game changers” in February, have been rolled out in collective care, long-term care homes and various essential workplaces. However, the back-to-school plan makes no mention of rapid testing.

See for yourself the back-to-school plan for the province here:

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