Ford solicits advice on reopening Ontario schools, gives experts 1 day to respond

Premier Doug Ford took the unusual step of publicly soliciting advice from medical experts, children’s hospitals and health organizations on how Ontario could go about reopening schools before the end of the academic year next month.

In a letter addressed to 55 different groups and people, Ford reiterated that his government has struggled to find consensus on school reopenings, and that it needs input before moving forward with a decision.

Why Ford waited until May 27, and gave the recipients until just 5 p.m. Friday to answer, is unclear.

“In recent weeks, there has been a wide range of advice and commentary around the reopening of schools in Ontario,” Ford said in the letter.

“There is consensus in some quarters on how, when and whether schools should reopen, and diverse and conflicting views in others.”

He added that new modelling expected in the coming days will show that, if schools were to reopen, there could be between 2,000 and 4,000 more cases of COVID-19 by the end of July compared to if they remain closed.

Ford went on to once again express his concerns about virus variants of concern, particularly the variant first identified in India, and its impact on children. He also pointed to emerging evidence that suggests COVID-19 vaccines are potentially less effective against the variant found in India.

According to Ford, only 41 per cent of teachers and education workers have received a first dose of vaccine, compared to about 62 per cent of Ontario adults in the general population.

“Ultimately, this is our government’s decision, but in light of the foregoing, and the diversity of perspectives on the safety of reopening schools, I am asking for your views on a number of issues,” Ford said.

He then asked for input on seven questions:

  • 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?

The letter is just the latest in a series of COVID-related correspondences that Ford has released publicly, covering a range of topics but particularly issues surrounding border policy.

1,135 new cases of COVID-19

Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 1,135 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and the lowest provincewide test positivity rate in nearly 10 weeks.

Labs completed 37,705 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and Public Health Ontario logged a positivity rate of 3.6 per cent, a level not seen in the province since March 19.

The total cases reported today are considerably fewer than last Thursday, which saw 2,400 new confirmed infections. Because testing in Ontario generally follows a weekly cycle, it is usually most helpful to compare the same days of the week.

The rolling seven-day average of cases dropped again to 1,441, the lowest it has been since mid-March.

Another 2,302 infections were marked resolved in today’s update. There are now about 16,541 active cases provincewide. During the peak of the third wave in Ontario, there were nearly 43,000 active cases.

As of yesterday, there were 1,072 people with COVID-related illnesses in hospitals, 650 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. Of those, 452, or about 69.5 per cent, needed a ventilator to breathe. 

According to Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO), a government agency that does a daily tally of hospitalizations, 28 more COVID-19 patients were admitted to ICUs yesterday. The median stay for ICU patients has grown to nearly 20 days, up from around 11 at the beginning of May. 

The Ministry of Health also recorded the deaths of 19 more people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 8,697.

Public health units collectively administered another 143,748 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Because more adolescents are receiving vaccines, and the province doesn’t provide an age breakdown of those who have received a shot, it’s difficult to say exactly what percentage of Ontario adults have gotten a first dose.

Using the province’s total population, about 53.8 per cent of Ontarians have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The government has said that having 60 per cent of all Ontario adults with a first shot is a key criterion for moving into the Phase 1 of its revised reopening plan.

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