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Lecce insists schools are safe, Toronto Public Health won't recommend move to remote learning

Last Updated Apr 5, 2021 at 5:05 pm EDT

Education Minister Stephen Lecce is insisting that schools are safe and not a source of COVID-19 transmission in the wake of Peel Public Health’s decision to close schools in the region and transfer students and staff to online learning.

A spokesperson for the minister’s office says it’s the government’s belief that schools should remain open.

“As confirmed by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, schools remain safe with strong public health measures in place that have kept nearly 99 percent of schools in Ontario open,” said the Minister’s spokesperson Caitlin Clark in an email to 680 NEWS.

“The Peel medical officer of health has stated that schools are safe and are not the source of transmission, however, they can be put at risk by a high level of community spread.”

Last week, Lecce announced in-class instruction and April Break would go on as planned and once again reiterated that students are safe at this time.

“It is our firm belief that schools should be open for in-class learning, as they are critical to student mental health,” Clark added. “Due to our strong infection prevention measures, 99 percent of students and staff have no active cases of COVID-19, however, we must remain vigilant and keep our guard up in order to keep schools safe and open.”

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown criticized the public health unit’s decision, saying schools in Peel Region need to stay open.

“Don’t close elementary schools. Vaccinate educators. Close Amazon. Close Food Processing Plants. Close Busy Big Box Stores. Close Crowded Factories. And if our supply chain can’t handle it then vaccinate essential workers. Same old approach isn’t working,” said Brown on Twitter.

Brown references an Amazon warehouse in Brampton that was ordered to shut down in March due to a major COVID-19 outbreak.

Peel Region’s public health unit ordered Amazon to suspend all shifts at its facility on Heritage Road and have employees isolate for two weeks.

In response to Peel Public Health’s decision, Toronto’s public health unit said it’s closely monitoring COVID-19 cases in schools across the city.

“As of April 5, TPH is not recommending the shift to remote learning for schools in Toronto. TPH will continue to manage risk on a school-by-school basis, taking immediate and appropriate action to address these complex outbreaks,” said TPH in a statement.

“This decision will be revisited on a daily basis, and further recommendations may be made in the near future in partnership with our local school boards and the province. TPH will continue to recommend early dismissal for individual schools upon investigation to protect students, staff, teachers, and school communities.”

Toronto’s top doctor Dr. Eileen da Villa called the rising COVID-19 case rates in the city “horrific.”

York Region Public Health also issued a statement, saying protecting its residents remains its top priority.

“To date, all school closures we have seen in York Region have been closed for operational reasons unrelated to outbreak reasons,” said YRPH.

Meanwhile, the President of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) says the province’s decision to continue in-person learning despite alarming increases in COVID-19 cases in hot spot areas “defies logic.”

“Educators firmly believe that quality in-person learning, when done safely, is what is best for students. Unfortunately, due to the Ford government’s repeated refusal to make necessary investments, this is simply not possible in many areas of the province,” said Sam Hammond.

“The government, school boards, and PHUs must take immediate action to ensure students and staff are safe, up to and including moving learning online, if that’s what’s deemed necessary.”

The ETFO sourced information from medical experts, who “have repeatedly said that schools are not mere reflections of community transition, but drivers of it, and that variants are being transmitted by children.”

The province logged 2,938 new cases of the novel coronavirus today and 3,041 cases on Sunday, as data sharing was paused for the Easter Sunday holiday.

Ten deaths were linked to the virus on today’s report and 12 on Sunday’s update from the province.

There are 942 people hospitalized with the virus in Ontario, but the Ministry of Health noted that 10 percent of Ontario’s hospitals do not submit data on weekends.

Ontario also reported 494 patients in intensive care because of COVID-19 and 293 on a ventilator.

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