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COVID-19 variants account for 45 per cent of active school cases in York Region: public health

4.26 per cent of York Region schools have reported at least one confirmed outbreak since Feb. 16
March 29, 2021
Dina Al-Shibeeb

The new COVID-19 variants account for about 45 per cent of the active school cases in York Region, the region’s local public health unit told on Thursday, March 25.

As of March 12, there are 47 schools belonging to the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) that have at least one confirmed or probable case, and 22 schools from the York Catholic District School Board (YRCDSB) that have at least one active case.

There are three temporarily closed YRDSB schools and six for the York Catholic District School Board.

“Cases with the mutation N501Y with lineage ‘identification still pending’ (are) the most common,” said Patrick Casey, director, corporate communications at York Region Public Health. “For those with full genome sequencing completed, the B.1.1.7 U.K. variant within the school age population in York Region is the most common,” he added.

Meanwhile, Casey said, “The prevalence of variants of concern in school cases is in line with what is seen in the broader York Region community, with variants accounting for approximately 45 per cent of active school cases.”

In York Region, 66 schools have reported at least one confirmed outbreak since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since Feb. 16, 2021, when schools in York Region reopened, a total of 17 schools have been physically closed because of a suspected or confirmed outbreak.

“All of the schools were closed for operational reasons. York Region Public Health did not initiate the closures of any schools,” he said.

Also since Feb. 16, 20 schools have reported at least one confirmed outbreak, which represents approximately 4.26 per cent of all schools in York Region.

There are a total of 4,828 schools in Ontario, with the current number of schools with reported cases standing at 1,033 and the number of closed schools standing at 43.

The YRDSB is the third-largest school district in Ontario, with over 124,000 students in 180 elementary schools and 33 secondary schools. The YRCDSB has 54,000 students in 85 elementary schools and 16 secondary schools.

Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, said during a media briefing on March 22 that the Ontario government is continuing to "ignore recommendations from public health experts about the need for better ventilation and more physical distancing in schools."

As a result, as of last week, roughly one in five schools in Ontario had a case of COVID-19, said Stuart, who is also a York Region teacher.

Sandy Glassford, president of District 16 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, wrote a letter on March 24, urging York Region medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji to intervene for safer schools.

When asked about Kurji’s reply, Casey said York Region Public Health will be responding directly to OSSTF’s request for information on whether public health has metrics with respect to closure of schools and reversion to online learning, when or at what thresholds public health will require closing the schools to in-person learning and requiring online learning; and at what thresholds public health would permit the reopening of schools to in-person learning if exclusively online learning is required at some point.