ontario schools covid

Ontario residents question why schools can reopen despite extended lockdown orders

Stay-at-home orders have been extended this week for almost all public health regions in Ontario, meaning that current lockdown restrictions will remain in place until public health officials say otherwise.

Once the order is lifted in any given region, that region will exit the ongoing provincewide shutdown and re-enter Ontario's colour-coded COVID-19 response framework system.

Three public health units are scheduled to transition this week, according to the provincial government; Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health, and Renfrew County and District Health Unit will enter framework's "Green-Prevent" level on Wednesday.

All remaining public regions save for Toronto, Peel and York will enter the framework next Tuesday, on February 16. 

Toronto, Peel and York are the last three regions slated to exit shutdown mode on Monday, February 22 — and that's only if ICU numbers and transmission rates remain stable.

What we know for certain is that, for at least two more weeks, Canada's largest city will remain under the same lockdown rules that have been in place since December 26.

Schools in all three hot spot regions, however, are scheduled to reopen for in-person learning on February 16, a full week earlier than the earliest potential date for stay-at-home orders to be lifted.

What's up with that?

Many people in Ontario have been asking questions to this effect on Twitter since Premier Doug Ford announced the beginning of his government's phased economic reopening plan on Monday.

Residents of hot spot regions are confused about why schools are being allowed to reopen when, say, retail stores, offices, gyms and salons must all remain closed for at least two more weeks.

Some are suggesting that perhaps the province should allow schools to operate a little bit longer before deciding to reopen the wider economy.

Elementary and high schools only returned to in-person learning yesterday in several large Ontario cities, after all, including Hamilton, Niagara, Waterloo, Guelph, Chatham and Windsor.

Others worry that reopening schools will lead to a spike in transmissions...

... or that opening schools and and businesses around the same time will make it hard to determine the root cause of any transmission spikes, should they occur.

Of course, some people feel that neither schools nor businesses should reopen until case numbers go down.

Many are simply frustrated by an apparent lack of reason and a noted lack of clarity.

A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Education pointed out that all other public health unit regions have reopened schools as scheduled to date and that Monday's announcement would not impact the return to in-person learning.

The province has maintained,  based on the advice of medical experts, that in-person learning is vital to the mental health, well-being and development of children.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce also tweeted this week that "vigilance is required to protect our schools and seniors."

"In consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Ontario is taking a cautious approach to reopening," tweeted Lecce following Ford's reopening announcement.

"Our priority is protecting families — that is why this is not a return to normal."

"Following the best medical advice, with the clear support of both Ontario's and the local Medical Officers of Health, we are reopening schools across the province knowing that we have taken additional steps and made additional investments to better protect our students and staff," said Lecce when announcing reopening dates for in-person learning earlier this month.

"Nothing is more important than returning kids to school safely because it is crucial for their development, mental health, and future success."

"Reducing the transmission of COVID-19 is fundamental to keeping our communities and schools safe," said Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams at the same time, pointing to new enhanced safety measures for schools such as "guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school."

"Our collective efforts, like strictly adhering to all public health measures, in addition to the enhanced safety measures in schools, will help keep communities healthy and students learning alongside their peers in their classrooms."

Lead photo by

A Great Capture

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