ONTARIO: What must happen before Ontario students return to class?

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While these 12 and over are eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario since the end of May, no vaccine has yet been approved for young children, who will return to classes roughly the same. size than before the pandemic

As Ontario students and their parents wait for the province’s Education Minister to find out what schools reopening will look like in September, medical experts say masks may have to remain a part of life, in especially for primary school students.

While these 12 and over are eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario since the end of May, no vaccine has yet been approved for young children, who will return to classes roughly the same. size than before the pandemic.

“As long as COVID is circulating, children are vulnerable,” said Ashleigh Tuite, infectious disease epidemiologist and mathematical modeler at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “It’s so transmissible that without vaccination we would expect all children to become infected over time.

“I think for now, keeping the masks on is the prudent course to take,” she said, noting that if the virus was largely eliminated by September, the requirement could be easily changed.

Ontario had required masks to be worn from Grade 3 in the past school year, before schools were closed and only moved online in April amid a third wave of infections .

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily in the province has been declining steadily from a peak this month above 4,000, and has been below 300 cases each day in July so far.

But Dr Keiran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health since late June, said earlier this week that public health modeling suggests cases will rise again in September as the weather cools.

“I absolutely expect an increase in COVID activity in September,” he said, noting that an increase in cases would primarily affect unvaccinated people.

Just under half of all Ontarians are fully immunized and more than two-thirds have received a first injection, according to public health data. This drops to just over 60% of 12 to 17 year olds with a first dose and 27% with double vaccines.

Those under 20 make up about eight percent of COVID-19 cases in Ontario, although serious illness is rarer among young people.

Tuite said schools and boards should know what proportion of their population has been vaccinated (but don’t necessarily need to know who) in order to properly calibrate their response to any outbreak.

“If we don’t have this information, it puts schools in a difficult position in that they would have to move from a place where they assume immunization coverage is not high,” she said. , which could lead to more frequent or widespread closures.

Sick Kids, Toronto’s Pediatric Hospital, plans to release updated advice gathered from its own experts and others on how best to manage the return to school in the coming days.

Dr David Fisman, professor of epidemiology at Dalla Lana, said there would be no single answer to many of the outstanding back-to-school questions, but emerging knowledge about the spread of the virus should guide the procedures.

Fisman, who stood in line to provide evidence on behalf of teachers’ unions filing a safety complaint that the province’s labor commission dismissed last year, said outdoor activities for teachers Vaccinated high school students should not be of concern, but inside was more complicated.

“You might be a little apprehensive about tough contact sports like tackle football, but again, it’s big kids’ business, so you can demand the football vaccination,” he said. -he declares.

The interior is more difficult, he said, and groups comprising a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated students will need to use well-ventilated spaces, HEPA air purifiers and masks.

“Realize that things like choir and theater and wind or wind musical instruments are great for aerosolization, and the number of super-diffusing events associated with choirs and karaoke speaks volumes,” he said. -he declares.

Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said the Progressive Conservative government has funneled much of the federal and provincial funds for pandemic-related improvements in schools to ventilation improvements .

“Over the past year, our government has invested more than $ 750 million to improve ventilation systems and school safety, with improvements made to every school in every school board across Ontario,” he said. she declared.

– Morgan Sharp, reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative, national observer

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