TORONTO — Ontario’s education minister is defending the province’s plan to end mask rules and other COVID-19 measures in schools on March 21, despite concerns from parents, teachers, health experts and opposition about the timeline.
Stephen Lecce said Thursday that Ontario is trailing a few other Canadian jurisdictions, including Saskatchewan and Alberta, that have already raised mask-wearing requirements.
“I would say that based on what we know today, we are in fact one of the most cautious provinces,” he told the provincial legislature, saying that Ontario was following the “clear advice” from its chief medical officer.
Mr Lecce said wearing a mask has become an individual choice, but the changes have come with recent ventilation improvements in schools, including the provision of 49,000 HEPA filter units.
On March 21, Ontarians will not be required to wear masks in schools, nurseries and most other public places, except for some places considered high-risk such as retirement homes, hospitals and public transportation.
Other measures, including on-site symptom screening and bubbles, will also end in Ontario schools on that date. It’s part of the county’s plan to essentially lift all health measures by the end of April, which was revealed Wednesday by Dr. Kieran Moore, the county’s chief medical officer of health.
However, concerns have been raised about the decision to stop wearing masks in schools immediately upon returning from the March holiday, which begins Friday in Ontario.
Kristen Szabo, a mother of two, 11- and 4-year-olds in Ajax, Ontario, said March 21 was too early, especially given the relatively low vaccination rates among elementary school students.
She added that her children will continue to wear their masks after that date, noting that the youngest is not yet eligible for a vaccine.
“I took my 11-year-old daughter along with this and she really took into consideration that it was our job to protect our youngest,” said Ms Szabo. “Part of the reason I received the vaccination is to protect my little sister, so I will continue to wear my mask to protect my little sister,” she said. »
The Ontario Board of Directors (OPC) said it opposes the March 21 date to end the wearing of masks in schools and urged the province to suspend its schedule, saying the current date “would endanger the safety of students, staff and our school communities.”
“This announcement does not appear to be scientifically based,” the organization said in a statement.
The association, which represents 5,400 directors and assistant directors, noted the relatively low vaccination rate among children aged 5 to 11 – 30% fully vaccinated – and suggested waiting until after the Easter holiday to lift mandatory mask-wearing, after assessing the impact of ending health measures. the public.
A coalition of children’s hospitals also urged the county to keep protective masks in schools for at least two weeks after spring break.
Opposition politicians were also worried. “What is the urgency? asked NDP leader Andrea Horwath, encouraging a slower, more cautious approach. She also said she was concerned about the lack of clarity on school boards wanting to introduce their own rules around the wearing of masks.
Lecce said Thursday that public health units should consult with the chief medical officer before deciding whether to extend mandatory mask-wearing at school for a longer period.
The Toronto District School Board had been planning a special meeting Thursday evening to review COVID-19 policies and determine next steps, and promised families an update on Friday.
Ontario reported 742 hospitalizations for the COVID-19 virus and 244 patients in intensive care Thursday.
There were 751 hospitalizations and 241 patients in intensive care the previous day.
Ontario has also reported 14 additional deaths from COVID-19.
There were 2,125 new cases of COVID-19, but the Chief Medical Officer of Health has already determined that the actual number of new cases may be ten times higher than what has been reported, because access to PCR screening is limited to clients’ priorities.
Outbreaks have been reported in about 7% of the county’s long-term care homes. No schools were closed Wednesday “due to the outbreak or operational considerations.”
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