TORONTO – COVID-19 Update – The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) has issued the following statement from President Barb Dobrowolski, in response to the Ford government’s decision to end the masking requirement in Ontario schools on March 21:
“Catholic teachers are concerned that the Ford government’s decision to drop school masking requirements after March Break is ill-timed, and seemingly motivated by politics rather than science.
“Schools are the largest daily gathering in Ontario, with more than two million students, educators, and staff congregating in buildings – often with more than 30 students in a classroom – for seven hours a day. For safe, open schools, we must proceed cautiously.
“Ontario’s public health experts, including the Scientific Director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, are questioning the Ford government’s decision, as case counts remain high, and masking continues to be one of the most effective proactive and protective measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission in our schools and communities. The timing of this decision is premature and does not provide the necessary time to analyse and address COVID-19 case trends, say public health experts.
“The decision to drop the requirement directly after March Break is especially problematic, given that this is typically a period of travel and associated in the past with increased transmission – including after Premier Ford encouraged families to ‘have fun’ and ‘go away’ for March Break two years ago.
“The ability to understand the impact of this announcement is made all the more difficult by the Ford government’s failure to implement a robust testing program, despite their repeated promises to do so, and decision to suspend COVID-19 case tracking in schools – a short-sighted decision that continues to leave parents, students, educators, and public health units in the dark about the presence of COVID-19 in their communities.
“We all want students in school, safely enjoying the benefits of in-person learning.
“Considering the lack of physical distancing in classrooms and congregated spaces, the absence of quality ventilation in many schools, and lower vaccination rates among young children, removing masking, one of the most important protective measures to help control the spread of COVID-19 in schools, at this time, may jeopardize the progress that has been made in keeping schools open.
“This important public health decision cannot be rushed.”