‘We will not be using Section 22’: MLHU will not supersede new provincial optional mask rules

The thought of masks being optional on March 21 has shocked some parents.

“I am dismayed I guess is probably the best word to use,” says Tracy Leckie, a parent council representative at Masonville Public School, with two children in Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) Schools.

“We don’t even know how many cases are in schools because Thames Valley is self-reporting. There really is no testing for school aged kids, and we don’t really know anything about how much transmission there is in schools right now,” she says.

After watching the news conference featuring Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Keiran Moore Wednesday, Leckie feels schools should not be treated equally to other public spaces.

CTV News did speak to some other parents who could not wait to get rid of masks and plan on sending their children to school mask free.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) reports 55 per cent of children aged five to 11 have one dose of the vaccine and only 28 per cent are doubled vaccinated.

They have concerns about the low vaccination numbers as well as crowded classrooms, air quality and the unknown number of cases.

“Comfort that teachers will have as employees and staff is a very high rate of vaccination,” says Craig Smith, ETFO Thames Valley president referring to 97 per cent of his vaccinated members.

ETFO is also happy to know the board will still provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks for teachers at no cost.

“Masking, I have to say of all of the protective measures that have been put in place has probably been the thing that has most effectively kept schools open and kept kids at school and kept teachers at school,” says Smith.

Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Alex Summers says the province has made its decision, and although he will likely use a mask during respiratory season, the MLHU won’t be issuing any superseding orders.

“The section 22 (order) is really intended for acute local issues,” says Summers. “In this instance, the information about masking has been available to elected officials at the provincial level and they’ve made a decision. We can recommend masking, but will not be using a section 22 at this time.”

Summers says masks have been highly effective and a low interference in our lives to help disrupt transmission.

“As we move into the next respiratory season next winter, we may see masking return in some areas particularly health care environments. For the general community masks will be part of your ‘tool box’,” he says.

It is unclear how many children will wear a mask when school returns, but there will certainly be some who choose to keep it on, which could create a divisive issue in schools.

“There are challenges that can happen in elementary schools surrounding pressure to wear the mask,” says Smith. “We don’t want to see that at the schoolyard level. We don’t want to see that at the staff level either. So I think it is important that there’s clarity of direction from the employer about what the expectations are with regards to the use of and how we interact with each other.”

Leckie agrees that making it optional in schools could be a problem.

“A number of times we’ve been told to be nice to those still wearing masks,” says Leckie. “That tells me that they certainly have an appreciation for the fact that this is a divisive issue. I don’t really understand why you would want to put that inevitable conflict on young children or on the staff that are responsible for managing that that seems very unfair.”

She adds the province owes Ontarians to “safe, healthy” environment to send children to school, adding, “We shouldn’t have to choose between public education in a safe environment for our kids.”

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