COVID-19: Benefits of reopening schools outweigh short-term risks, Guelph's top doc says

WATCH: Some parents remain on the fence about sending their children back to school next week, as fears over how safe it will be linger. Despite reassurances from the government that it is empowering parents to know it will be cautious, critics and parents alike remain skeptical. Matthew Bingley reports.

Guelph’s medical officer of health says the benefits of reopening schools to in-person learning amid a surge of Omicron COVID-19 variant cases outweigh the short-term risks.

Dr. Nicola Mercer released a statement on Friday afternoon and said that in-person learning is important for children, their families and the entire community.

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“When children cannot attend school, there are serious and long-lasting impacts on their mental health, well-being and academic progress,” she said.

“A world-class education delivered in a safe environment by caring teachers and supported by dedicated staff is an important pillar of our region’s future.”

Schools are scheduled to reopen on Monday despite the Omicron variant driving a surge in cases and putting pressure on the local health system.

The latest data shows there are 22 people in Guelph General Hospital with COVID-19 and 67 staff members are off work due to the disease.

The hospital’s ICU has surpassed full capacity, while its acute care is almost at full capacity.

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Dr. Mercer said it will likely be several weeks at least before the situation begins to improve in the region.

She added that for in-person learning to resume and be successful, the entire community must protect schools against the spread of the variant.

“Schools, school boards and their partners across the region have made many changes to make schools as safe as possible,” Dr. Mercer said. “But it will take all of us working together as a community to drive down the levels of COVID-19 locally to make schools safer.”

She urged everyone to get vaccinated and get a booster as soon as they are eligible, and continue to follow all public health measures.

Dr. Mercer also said that many families in the community rely on in-person learning to support their economic and social well-being.

“Many children depend on in-person learning for reasons of food security, safety and many other benefits beyond what is contained in their lessons,” she said.

“For this reason, I believe that the benefits of reopening in-person learning ultimately outweigh the short-term risks.”

Guelph’s public school board announced this week that every classroom will have a HEPA filter and every teacher will have access to a non-fit N95 mask.

“We have just over 2,200 standalone HEPA units across our system so that they are in each of our learning spaces,” said director of education Peter Sovran.

Along with N95 masks for every teacher, three-ply reusable masks will also be available to every student as they head back to in-person learning on Monday.

“School operations staff over the course of this week will be continuing to distribute the masks to each school so they are in place by Friday of this week so they are ready for students when they come into our building, presumably on Monday,” said executive superintendent of education Brent McDonald.

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Guelph public school board launches temporary remote option for elementary students

The board has also launched a temporary remote option for elementary school students whose parents choose to keep their children at home.

The new temporary option is different from the current remote program that students enrolled in at the beginning of the school year.

“There may be a variety of reasons why a child may be learning from home and we recognize the importance of providing families with options that support continued learning for students,” said Upper Grand spokesperson Heather Loney.

“This temporary remote learning option provides asynchronous resources for students to work on independently while not attending in-person, until they return to in-person learning.”

The board added that families should note that this option provides asynchronous resources for students to work on independently and does not include live teaching and none of the completed work will be assessed or graded.

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The temporary option is available to students in both French Immersion and regular programming.

Any families who wish to participate in the option are required to notify their school office, indicating that their child will be accessing temporary remote learning and indicate the length of time they anticipate their child will be doing so.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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