A Cautious Approach to Reopening Urged by Children’s Health Leaders
TORONTO, October 15, 2021 – The Children’s Health Coalition urges the Government of Ontario to pursue a cautious approach to reopening and to double down on the measures that are working to keep schools open and protect the health and well-being of children and youth.
Since schools have opened up for in-person learning in September, our provincial COVID-19 numbers have been stable and have been tracking within the best-case scenario as outlined by the COVID-19 Science Advisory and Modelling Consensus Tables.
Analysis of data from Public Health Ontario suggests that the overall efforts to limit virus transmission, such as masking, distancing and vaccinations, have been successful with less than 0.19 per cent (approximately 3,742 cases between September 5 and October 2) of Ontario’s two million school aged population testing positive and an average of 2 to 3 cases per school outbreak. Of the total number of cases in children and youth ages 6 to 17 between September 19 to October 2, the vast majority (a minimum of 70%) have been traced to sources other than school outbreaks. We know that even a small number of cases in schools create significant disruptions for families. We recognize and thank teachers, administrators and school staff for their role in protecting children and youth from disease transmission while supporting their education.
While few children become seriously ill with COVID-19, one death is a tragedy. Protecting children in all settings – including schools – is critical. Minimizing community spread will help protect children in all settings. Another crucial element to keeping schools open is protecting the eco-system of those aged 5 to 11 as we await their eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine. That means the rest of us – teachers, support staff, eligible students, parents, caregivers and the community at large need to get vaccinated and continue with known public health measures such as masking, distancing and staying home when sick. To further enhance long-term safety, we support mandatory disclosure of COVID-19 vaccination in schools for eligible children and youth using the Reopening Ontario Act or other appropriate legislation.
As leaders in children’s health, we hear directly from families how important in-person school is to the emotional, physical, developmental and mental health of children and youth. We have seen the negative impacts of long-term school closures on those with disabilities and medical complexities, as well as among Black, Indigenous and racialized Ontarians.
Children and youth must be a priority in the pandemic recovery – for the sake of their future and the sake of our province’s future. We must stay the course in our schools, while always looking ahead and acting swiftly to prioritize the needs of children and youth.