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'Cautious and sensible': York Region's top doc supports Ontario back-to-school plan

The plan does not include requirements for vaccination, or any protocols based on vaccination status
Aug. 5, 2021
Joseph Quigley

York Region’s medical officer of health is lauding Ontario’s back-to-school plan as both "cautious and sensible."

“Like many communities around the world, York Region is experiencing the impacts of COVID-19. We have suffered loss and impacts to our mental, physical and emotional well-being,” Dr. Karim Kurji said at a news conference alongside Minister of Education Stephen Lecce today.

“I am pleased to see the Ontario government’s guide to reopening schools. It is cautious and sensible.”

Speaking from St. Robert Catholic High School in Thornhill, Kurji also welcomed today’s announcement of an additional $25 million for high-efficiency particulate air filter units.

The funds will provide 20,000 air filters, spread throughout the province in any instructional spaces lacking mechanical ventilation.

York Catholic District School Board director of education Domenic Scuglia said although all of its schools have already upgraded their mechanical ventilation systems, it is a welcome announcement.

“Proper ventilation is a key factor in our school re-entry plan, along with enhanced cleaning, cohorts, masks and other safety measures,” Scuglia said.

The plan states students will remain in cohorts for classes. But the province is relaxing rules, as students can mingle across cohorts in cafeterias and outside for recess, with physical distancing. Extracurricular activities and competitive sports will be allowed again, with masks still required indoors for grades 1 and up.

The plan does not currently include a requirement for vaccination, or any protocols based on vaccination status. Ontario chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore has hinted that unvaccinated students would face stricter rules compared to vaccinated students if they have a high-risk COVID-19 contact.

But Moore said today outbreak protocols are still being finalized. He also said there should be no different approaches for any school activities based on vaccination status.

Kurji said more vaccinations remain the most important measure for public health against COVID-19. Within York, 81.4 per cent of residents aged 12 and older have one dose of vaccine, while 72.6 per cent have two doses as of Aug. 2.

“Vaccination is key to returning to normal,” Kurji said. “Greater vaccination coverage is required across all ages, recognizing Ontario’s youngest learners are not currently eligible for a vaccine. I encourage everyone eligible to receive your vaccines to help avoid a resurgence of cases.”

With his retirement on the horizon at the end of September, Kurji thanked businesses, residents, partners and representatives from all levels of government.

“Together, we have been able to continuously respond to the ever changing needs of our community,” he said. “Protecting residents of all ages can only happen when we are working together.”