Experts: Reopening schools to in-person learning should start as soon as possible, depend on regional approach

As Ontario ponders a return to class for students across the province, parents and doctors are divided on the debate. Adrian Ghobrial with the details from health experts, and the results of our CityNews poll as thousands of parents weigh in.

By News Staff

As the province plans to enter Step 1 of its 3-step reopening plan in a few weeks and the end of the school year inches closer, calls are growing from some of the province’s top doctors and policy makers to reopen schools to in-person learning as soon as possible.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Lawrence Loh, Medical Officer of Health for Peel Region, said with the accelerated vaccine coverage for teachers and students well underway, he would like to see schools reopen “sooner rather than later.”

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, expressed a similar sentiment on Tuesday.

“I’ve been encouraging schools to open as soon as possible,” Dr. Williams said. “[In discussions] with our medical officers of health throughout the province — all of them want them to open. We know that next week would be an opportune time for some areas, with some areas having very low numbers day-over-day.”

All Ontario schools were switched to remote learning only, following a week-long spring break in April.

When asked last week about the possibility of reopening schools, Doug Ford said he would consult with his science experts, but feared that an increase in cases would be too much for the province to handle. According to the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, opening schools could bring an increase of cases from anywhere between six to 11 per cent.

Colin Furness, an infectious disease expert, says at this time officials have to weigh the risks with the benefits, but it’s a tough decision to make.

“I’m glad the decision is not on me. I would defer to local public health units and local school boards,” he said, adding that “it would be foolish to deny that there could be the possibility of spread in schools.”

Liberal leader Steven del Duca also called on Doug Ford during a virtual press conference on Wednesday to allow individual public health units to make the call about whether or not it’s safe to reopen schools for in-person learning.

“I am urging Doug Ford to provide the support to our public health units to give the public health units right across Ontario the authority to make the decisions,” he said. “And I know those public health units will work closely with the respective school boards that they have in their local regions to make the kind of local decisions that will serve the interests of the system, the school system, and serve the interests, most importantly, of our kids and their parents.

With files from The Canadian Press

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