Premier Doug Ford is hopeful that Ontario’s two million school children can resume in-person learning as soon as possible, but he wants to make sure “the teachers are in the classroom with the students.”
This is why Ford is begging educators to get the COVID-19 vaccine and parents to get their children vaccinated.
“We need to make sure that when the kids get back to school they can function,” he said Friday after visiting a workplace recall clinic at Purolator in Etobicoke, which administers 500 injections per day.
“We don’t want to see a New York City, (where) a bunch of kids sitting in the gym doing absolutely nothing while we see absenteeism in all areas, not just in the private sector,” said the Prime Minister.
It’s a reference to huge gangs of students, teachers, and staff in New York calling out sick because of Omicron, however. snowy weather could also be a factor.
“Schools are not exempt from this,” Ford said. “Hospitals are not exempt. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we get through this. We want to make sure they can function and make sure the teachers are in the classroom with the students.
His comments came in the form of an open letter from 136 community, business and medical leaders – published in the Star and other Torstar publications – urging him to reopen schools.
“The move to online school has caused our children to be significantly behind in a number of ways. For children from low-income families, the effects on mental and physical health of online schooling are even greater, ”the Friday letter warned.
“We are deeply troubled by the continued lack of long-term planning your government has undertaken to keep schools safe. 2022 requires more than a 2020 response. Containment of schoolchildren cannot continue to be the relief response two years after the start of this pandemic. “
In a U-turn on Monday – four days after Dr. Kieran Moore, the chief medical officer of health, assured parents, students and teachers that schools would reopen this week – Ford said the highly transmissible variant of Omicron meant that the students would not be returning to class. until January 17 at the earliest.
But, as the Star first reported, high school students may return earlier than elementary school children due to their higher immunization levels.
Ford noted that it was “awesome,” so many high school students had their shots.
“There are over 82 percent of children who are doubly vaccinated in high schools. We want to make sure that teachers have the opportunity to receive their booster shots with daycare educators and to make sure that is an area in which schools can operate, ”he said.
Among children aged 12 to 17, 82.4% received both injections and 86.1% had at least one.
But among children aged five to 11, who only became eligible for vaccination on November 23, 45.2 percent have received an injection and only 2.6 percent are fully immunized, although these numbers are starting to rise. increase rapidly.
Of all Ontario residents aged five to 17, only 40.2 percent are fully immunized and 64.5 percent have received their first injection.
This compares to 77.7% of the general population – including those under five who are not eligible for vaccination – with both vaccines and 83.2% have had one.
“I’m here all the time saying, ‘Get the vaccine.’ It is absolutely essential. When you get vaccinated, you protect yourself … from going to hospitals and putting a strain on the health care system, ”Ford said.
“Please go ahead and get vaccinated. But make no mistake, we’re in a serious situation and we’re going to get out of this because we have a solid plan, solid protocols in place, and we’re going to make sure those are implemented. “
This plan includes distributing faster antigen tests to schools once they arrive from the federal government, installing 3,000 additional HEPA filters in classrooms out of the 70,000 already in place, accelerating injections of reminder for educators and distribution of N95 masks to education workers.
But the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario reiterated Friday that the government must expand COVID-19 vaccinations and testing in schools as well as better monitor outbreaks.
These steps, and others, are essential “to return safely and sustainably to in-person learning,” the union said.
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