A Toronto nurse and single mother who works about 48 hours a week says she doesn’t know what she will do if the province chooses to keep kids home longer than two weeks.
Speaking with CTV News Toronto on Wednesday morning, Karen Cross said that she is “trying not to freak out” as she makes arrangements for her six-year-old son.
“I was so excited to hear at first that they were going back,” she said. “Even the two-day delay, you know, I moved some shifts around to figure out how to take care of my children. And then they go ahead and make this announcement.”
The Ontario government initially said that students would return to the classrooms on Jan. 5, a two-day delay in order to allow schools time to deploy additional safety measures and provide N95 masks for staff.
Four days later, Premier Doug Ford announced that students would not be returning until Jan. 17 due to a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases.
“We need to prioritize the continued health and safety of our kids and our school staff,” Ford told reporters on Monday. “As a result, we will be delaying the return to in-class learning for the next two weeks and continue with virtual learning for the duration of the time away.”
However, for people like Cross, this last-minute decision, which was made two days before kids were slated to go to school, was incredibly stressful.
“I’m a single mother now and I’m an essential worker, so I don’t get the choice of not going to work. I have to work,” she said.
Cross said she is lucky enough to have friends, who are also parents that work from home, that could take care of her son while she is at work.
“I have some really good friends luckily that have covered me for the next, you know, week and a half. But again, (if) this online learning goes beyond two weeks, I don’t know really what to do.”
Cross added that she believes schools are doing what they can to ensure public safety, including physical distancing, masking and enhancing ventilation. Her son misses his friends, she said, and finds it difficult to stay motivated while staring at a screen all day.
“It’s a disaster,” she said.
In a statement, the Ontario’s minister of education said they are using the next two weeks to deploy more N95 masks for education workers, improve air ventilation and apply stricter COVID-19 screening. They also will be hiring 2,000 new staff to support students.
Teachers’ unions have called on the province to implement a number of further measures, including prioritizing third doses of COVID-19 vaccine for education staff, making rapid tests available to staff and students, improving ventilation and continuing case count reporting and tracing.
The province has said that it will stop collecting COVID-19 numbers from school boards and will suspend reporting of new infections among students and staff, citing “recent changes to case and contact management” as the reason.
Ontario officials said earlier this week that they will be providing free emergency child care for school-aged children of health-care and other eligible frontline workers. It is unclear how many spaces are available.
With files from CTV News Toronto’s Queen’s Park Bureau Chief Colin D’Mello
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