Lambton’s medical officer of health says he believes moving school online again is a mistake.
It was one of the moves announced by Premier Doug Ford Monday in an effort to “blunt” the coming “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases fuelled by the Omnicron variant.
However Ford wouldn’t make any guarantees about whether students would return to the classroom on Jan. 17
Dr. Sudit Ranade says the province is sending mixed messages after touting plans to make sure children would stay in the classroom, no matter what.
“For the last several months (the province) has been talking about a formula where schools are really the last to close, right – the first to open last to close – because of the significant harm to children from not being in school,” he tells The Independent.
“And so it seems like we’re willing to forego all of those benefits to children? And I’m not really sure what the benefits are on the other side?”
Ranade says there will be cases of COVID-19 in school when the children return to class and the two weeks the province has ordered people to go online won’t change that.
“Nothing’s going to fundamentally shift between now and then the results are going to be pretty much the same.”
But he says the risk to children is very low and the damage done by staying out of school is real.
“On average, the benefits to a child of being in school far outweigh the risks of COVID, even if that child were to get COVID because we know children, on average have milder disease and are far less likely to be hospitalized, whether they are vaccinated or not,” says Ranade.
“Frankly, once they’re vaccinated, that pushes an already low risk even lower of severe disease, right. So now if you’re thinking about it like colds and flus, you have to sort of accept the fact that yes, if your child is in school, they will be exposed to COVID. But also if your child is doing anything with anyone, they might be exposed to COVID because it is going to be everywhere.
“And so once you think through that, you say, ‘gosh, they need to be in school because they’ve been out of school for longer than any other, kids in most other North American jurisdictions, and the educational and social impact of that on their life are going to persist for several years. And so, definitely the benefits of them being in school outweigh the risks to any individual child.”
Ranade says some parents will still feel it is too big of a risk to send their child into a classroom, but he says that should be a decision an individual parent makes.
In Lambton County, 76 percent of the people over five are fully vaccinated, although the number of elementary school children who have received the vaccine is much lower – just 32 per cent have received one shot and only two per cent have received two.
While Ranade, and a lot of parents, would prefer students be in the classroom, most started online school Wednesday. Elementary students in the Catholic school system were slated to begin online learning Thursday.
School board officials were expected to receive shipments of N95 masks for teachers by Tuesday and both the public and Catholic boards will be receiving 33 and 21 more HEPA filters respectively to help with air quality in the classroom when children do return to school.