Parents, students and teachers are still wondering when schools will reopen for in-personal learning in Ontario, while the province's top doctor insists it is a safe activity to resume.
"I’ve been supporting opening schools for in-class attendance," Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of heath said at a press conference on Thursday. "The issues around the health of the students...have been raised to my attention by different experts and by a number of my medical officers of health."
This comes after Ontario Premier Doug Ford sent an open letter to key stakeholders, including doctors, scientists, teacher unions and public health officials, asking for advice by Friday on how to safely reopen schools in the province.
The specific questions Ford asks are:
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 Ontario's reopening plan, indoor gatherings won't commence until July. Should indoor school instruction resume before then?
Dr. Williams said he is still consulting with other medical officers of health across Ontario but confirmed that only Porcupine Health Unit's medical officer of health, Dr. Lianne Catton, said that with the highest number of cases they've seen in the pandemic, resources are stretched too thin to reopen schools now.
He added that all representatives from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area have indicated they can do the case contact management necessary and are "prepared to have their schools open."
Dr. Williams added that COVID-19 transmission in schools becomes less of an issue if the adults associated with these settings are vaccinated, but urged parents to pose questions to school nurses and local medical officers of health about the risks of their children going back to school.
Ontario is currently estimated to enter the first stage of its reopening plan on June 14 but guidance around schools reopening is not present in any stage of the province's reopening framework.