The Ontario government released its back-to-school plan on Thursday, and one of the most controversial topics has to do with vaccines.
Although students (from grades 1 to 12) and staff will be required to wear masks while indoors (in exception for meals or during low-contact physical activities) they will not be required to take COVID-19 vaccines.
“Vaccination is an important tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and allow students, families, and staff to safely resume normal activities. Vaccination rates may provide opportunities to reduce measures over time. School boards are encouraged to work with local public health units to reach out to families to promote vaccination,” the guidelines stated.
Other highlights include:
- Screening: All staff and students must self-screen every day before attending school. School boards should provide parents with a checklist to perform daily screening of their children before arriving at school and self-assessment tools should be made available to staff to ensure awareness of possible symptoms of COVID-19.
- Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette: Schools are expected to train students on appropriate hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
- Distancing and congregating: As much distancing as possible between students, between students and staff, and between staff members will be promoted through cohort type mechanisms.
- Recess and breaks outdoors: Students don’t need to stay within their class cohort during recess and breaks outdoors, but distancing will be encouraged between cohorts as much as possible.
- Cleaning: Enhanced cleaning and disinfection standards and protocols will take place
- Ventilation: School boards are expected to continue optimizing air quality in classrooms by improving ventilation/filtration. Schools without mechanical ventilation should place standalone high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units in their classrooms.
The province’s plan led to some criticism and questions across social media, but from experts, the reaction is mixed with some pointing to positive elements and others decrying the lack of creative problem solving.
The Ontario schools document is imperfect but on first blush there are some unexpectedly positive elements, especially on masks, ventilation and HEPA cleaners. Symptom screening is helpful in studies, but won’t be a panacea when 50-70% of kids have asymptomatic infection.
— David Fisman (@DFisman) August 3, 2021
BRAVO Dr. Moore! #IndoorMasking for grades 1 to 12 👋🏽👋🏽, Good for Premier @fordnation for listening. #ventilation #distancing #handwriting #testing #isolationwhenill #Nurses say this will keep students safer.
— Doris Grinspun RN, PhD LLD(hon),Dr(hc), FAAN,O.ONT (@DorisGrinspun) August 3, 2021
Ontario’s back to school plan is incomplete, devoid of any creative strategies, and is a complete disservice to students, education workers, and parents.
— Ryan Imgrund (@imgrund) August 3, 2021
In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, stated, “we have to balance our physical and mental wellbeing”.
He also reiterated the importance of vaccinations to prevent a possible COVID-19 spike in the fall.
When asked under what circumstances schools may be forced to shut down, He stated, “I really don’t see our schools closing.”
According to the province’s back-to-school guidelines, the government will monitor the COVID-19 situation, including ongoing risks related to variants of concern, and alignment with broader provincial guidance and direction, to assess key measures and inform/update provincial guidance and direction.
Ontario reported 164 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, a slight decrease from the 168 cases reported on Monday and 218 reported Sunday. The province also reported one new death.
Out of the new cases reported Tuesday, 45 were reported in Toronto, 23 in York Region, and 22 in Peel Region.
As of publication, 19,591,917 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered.
Click here for more COVID-19 Ontario updates.