As Ontario students and their parents await news from the province’s education minister about what the school will reopen in September, medical experts say masks may remain a fixture of life, especially for students from Ontario. primary.
While children 12 and older have been eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Ontario since late May, no vaccine has yet been approved for younger children, who will return to classes the same size as before the pandemic. .
“As long as COVID is circulating, children are vulnerable,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease epidemiologist and mathematical modeler at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “It is so communicable that, in the absence of vaccination, we would expect all children to become infected over time.
“I think, for now, keeping the masks is the prudent route to take,” he said, noting that if the virus were largely eliminated by September, the requirement could easily be changed.
Ontario had required the use of masks beginning in the third grade last school year, before schools closed and went online-only in April amid a third wave of infections.
The number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily in the province has steadily declined from a peak that month above 4,000, and has been below 300 cases every day in July so far.
But Dr. Keiran Moore, the province’s medical director of health since late June, said earlier this week that public health models suggest that cases will rise again in September as the weather cools.
“I absolutely expect an increase in COVID activity in September,” he said, noting that an increase in cases would primarily affect unvaccinated people.
Just under half of Ontarians are fully vaccinated, and more than two-thirds have received a first shot. according to public health data. That comes down to just over 60 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds with a first dose and 27 percent with a double shot.
Those under the age of 20 account for about eight percent of Ontario’s COVID-19 cases, although the serious illness has been rarer among the very young.
Tuite said schools and boards need to know how much of their population has been vaccinated (but they don’t necessarily need to know who) to properly gauge their response to any outbreak.
“As long as #COVID is circulating, children are vulnerable,” said @AshTuite, an infectious disease epidemiologist and mathematical modeler at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“If we don’t have that information, it puts schools in a difficult position in the sense that they would have to start from a point where they assume vaccination coverage is not high,” he said, which could lead to more frequent closings. or generalized.
Sick Kids, Toronto’s pediatric hospital, plans to publish updated advice compiled by its own experts and others on how best to manage back-to-school in the coming days.
Dr. David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at Dalla Lana, said there will not be a single answer to all the outstanding questions about going back to school, but emerging knowledge about how the virus spreads should guide procedures.
Fisman, who was formed to provide evidence on behalf of teacher unions that filed a safety complaint that the province’s labor board rejected last year, said outdoor activities for vaccinated high school students should not be grounds. of concern, but inside it was more complicated.
“You may have a little concern about hard-contact sports like football, but again, that’s an important thing for kids, so you may require vaccination for soccer,” he said.
Indoors is tougher, he said, and groups that include a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated students will need to wear well-ventilated spaces, HEPA air cleaners and masks.
“Understand that things like choir and theater and woodwind musical instruments are great for aerosolization, and the number of superpreader events associated with choirs and karaoke speaks to that,” he said.
Caitlin Clark, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said the progressive Conservative government had funneled much of the federal and provincial funds earmarked for pandemic-related school improvements into ventilation improvements.
“Over the past year, our government has invested more than $ 750 million to improve air ventilation systems and school safety, with improvements made at every school on every Ontario school board,” he said.
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer