No masks or cohorts needed in Ontario schools unless COVID-19 cases spike, science chart shows

Masks and cohorts are not required in schools this fall to fight COVID-19 – hand hygiene, ventilation and vaccinations are the recommended ways to keep classrooms safe, according to a report by the Ontario Science Advisory Table.

The report echoes an earlier Department of Education memo that said wearing face coverings and dividing students into groups to help fight infection will not be mandatory this fall, and comes as the responsibilities of the volunteer advisory group are transferred to Public Health Ontario.

« We’re not disbanding it, » Premier Doug Ford said in an unrelated Niagara announcement Friday, after being asked about members of the COVID-19 science advisory table saying they were told the table would be dissolved as of September 6.

Ford said « they’re going to have a full-time home, rather than being put there in limbo » and will work with chief medical officer Dr Kieran Moore.

Science Table guidance on schools, which reopen after Labor Day, noted that the “physical, emotional and developmental health of children” has been affected by the pandemic and school closures, which in Ontario were more prevalent than in any other jurisdiction in North America and Europe.

« School closures to in-person attendance should only be considered part of a communicable disease control strategy in the most catastrophic of circumstances, » said the report by a group of pediatric and medical experts. in infectious diseases.

Instead, they advocate for improving indoor air quality, washing hands and making hand sanitizer available, deep cleaning schools, encouraging vaccinations, and doing that staff and students stay home when sick.

While the report’s authors could not reach agreement on when to mandate mask-wearing, the report states that « operationally, mask-wearing is probably the easiest temporary measure to implement. if necessary to support ongoing school operations…

“It is recognized that some school staff and students may continue to wear a mask even in the absence of a mandate, and this choice must be respected; schools should be mask-friendly environments.

The report also states that “temporary infection-related health and safety measures (e.g. masking, physical distancing, cohort, active screening, testing) can help reduce the transmission of communicable diseases in schools… (but) a thoughtful approach based on real- local level analysis is recommended before reintroducing these temporary measures after careful consideration of the potential benefits and negative consequences” as well as prevailing rules in the wider community .

However, he indicates, « these temporary measures should not be necessary at the start of the 2022 school year ».

Earlier this month, the Department for Education told councils that masks will not be compulsory but will be provided in schools to staff and pupils who wish to wear them.

In a written statement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province has sent more than 100,000 HEPA filter units for classrooms, implemented rigorous cleaning protocols and will continue to provide testing. rapid COVID-19 to schools.

« Our government’s ‘catch-up plan’ is designed to keep students in safe classrooms without disruption, which is why we followed expert advice from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, as children go back to class in September,” he said. “Our government remains focused on providing students with a positive, safe and normal school experience.


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