Premier Doug Ford has slammed Ontario school boards who are asking for more time before dropping the mask mandate saying they “aren’t medical experts” and are expected to follow the provincial directive.
The Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board have both placed formal requests that the lifting of the mask mandate in schools on March 21 be put on hold.
Both these school boards expressed concerns about the spread of COVID-19 after March Break.
On Thursday, trustees at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board also voted to keep masks in place for students and staff until April 15.
“Let me be very clear to the school boards, they aren’t medical experts,” Ford said in Barrie, Ont. Friday. “The chief medical officer is the expert and he’s done his due diligence.”
Ford said his expectation is that all school boards drop mask mandates on March 21, allowing parents to choose whether they want their children to wear masks.
“Follow the direction of the chief medical officer, plain and simple,” Ford said.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce also released a statement Friday saying that school boards are expected to drop mask mandates inline with the province.
“Ontario has one of the most cautious timelines,” Lecce said. “School boards in this province are expected to implement this cautious plan, coupled with the ongoing improvement of air ventilation within Ontario classrooms.”
The Ontario government previously said local medical officers of health could issue a Section 22 order to require masks in schools without approval from the Ford government.
However, Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa told CP24 on Thursday that the decision on masks in schools is ultimately “in the purview of the province.”
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said Friday that he does not believe that masks should be required in schools “indefinitely,” but he said that he would have liked to see the province wait until a few weeks after the March Break to lift the mandate .
“I just think it’s a little bit too soon right now. I would keep them on for a few more weeks. I’d watch how things go before and a few weeks after March Break,” he said. “Listen, if we still have a downward trajectory (then), if things are headed in the right direction, let’s take them off.”
Starting March 21, masks will no longer be required in schools, restaurants and bars, gyms and movie theaters across the province.
The government said individuals can continue to wear a mask after that date if they choose to do so.
With files from CP24’s Chris Fox