Students, teachers return to class

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The province has announced that students and teachers will be back in class this coming Monday after two weeks of online learning.

“I am very happy to say that there will be a return to in-class education on Jan 17. This is something that medical officers of health have called for consistently throughout the pandemic, myself included, and so I think it is the important decision for the province to have made for the overall well-being of our children,” said Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner.

He said although transmission can and does happen in schools, most transmission is found to be occurring outside of schools and that immunization and protective measures in schools will help to keep students as safe as possible.

In Simcoe Muskoka, 85 per cent of the population five years and older living in Simcoe Muskoka have had at least one dose of vaccine including 82 per cent of youth 12 to 17 years of age. In addition, 41 per cent of children five to 11 years of age havereceived at least one dose of vaccine.

“We do anticipate that there will be challenges for all involved with this return to class and we as a health unit have been in ongoing communication with our school boards throughout the pandemic and in preparation for this return to school and are here as a resource to advise school boards and schools,” said Gardner.

As expected Omicron has become the dominant strain. The health unit is overwhelmed and not able to keep up with cases, for which many people cannot even get testing. All of its resources are being deployed to community vaccine clinics.

Gardner said screening for symptoms will be essential and the onus will be on the individual to exclude themselves from school if necessary to help keep the school environment as safe as possible.

“We will continue to provide advice on an ongoing basis as needed but we will not, as a health unit, be following up on the investigation of individual cases or with the exclusion of entire class cohorts associated with cases at schools,” said Gardner.

The province will now be deploying more rapid antigen tests to public schools and child care. This will include two rapid antigen tests for every elementary and secondary student, child in child care and staff members in both settings to support reopening, for use when symptomatic.

The requirement for students in Grades 1-12 to wear a cloth or medical mask remains in place and masking continues to be strongly recommended for kindergarten students.

Based on the emerging evidence of Omicron spread, the government will be providing students with expanded access to free high-quality three- ply cloth masks. In addition, education staff will be provided with the option of a non-fit-tested N95 mask. These masks meet the same National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) standards as fit-tested N95s but have not been, and are not required to be, fit-tested.

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