Petition asks province to extend mask mandates in schools

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Secondary school teacher Martha Crealock is still on March break, but is already worried about a spike in COVID-19 cases after students returned to class on Monday.

At that time, students in Ontario public schools will no longer be required to wear masks.

“It really worries me that people are having a March Break where they’re interacting with a lot of people, and maybe on vacation or breathing shared air on a plane,” said Crealock, who teaches at the Waterloo Region District. School Board.

“When they come back on Monday, if people are unmasked in the classroom, I think we’ll see infection rates go up.”

Dr. Andrea Chittle is a family physician in Guelph, Ont. who started a petition asking the province to extend mask mandates in schools. (Submitted by Dr. Andrea Chittle)

Dr. Andrea Chittle shares her concern. The family doctor from Guelph, Ont., started a petition asking the province to keep mask mandates at school a little longer – and quickly garnered more than 10,000 signatures.

Chittle is concerned that the vaccination rate among children aged 5 to 11 is still relatively low, with just over 55% of children in this age group having received at least one dose. Meanwhile, children under five are not yet eligible for the vaccine and COVID-19 is still circulating in the community.

“People signed up their elementary and middle school students for in-person instruction this year knowing they would have layers of protection, as promised by the Department of Education and the Ford government,” said Chittle.

“Removing these protections when we still have a lot of COVID circulating seems to be leaving these families and individuals in deep trouble.”

WRDSB wants more time

In response to the mask-wearing mandates, the Waterloo Region District School Board and the Toronto District School Board have requested an extension from the province. The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board plans to keep its mask mandate for the time being – despite the risk of legal complications.

The Children’s Health Coalition, which represents Ontario’s children’s hospitals, said it would have preferred to see mask mandates extended for at least two weeks after March Break.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said of the provinces planning to lift mask requirements in schools, Ontario has one of the most conservative timelines. Lecce said the province is also improving air quality in classrooms with the addition of HEPA filters.

“Because of these many layers of protection, increased investment and the general improvement in Ontario’s situation, all schools in the province are open,” he said in a statement.

‘Hard to know’ the best time, says doctor

Dr. Joseph Lee is Primary Care Lead for Ontario Health Region KW4 and Physician-in-Charge at the Family Practice Center in Kitchener, Ont. (Dr. Joseph Lee)

Dr Joe Lee said it was “difficult to know” when is the right time to lift mask mandates – although he said Chittle argues that COVID-19 continues to circulate and the easing of restrictions restrictions will likely lead to a resurgence of cases.

Lee said it made sense to follow mask-wearing and social distancing, especially in high-risk places.

“Certainly in health care facilities, long-term care facilities, congregational places – there is a high risk to the people who live there,” said Lee, president and chief medical officer of the Center. of Family Medicine in Kitchener.

As for Chittle, she hopes her petition will convince the province to keep the mask requirements a little longer. She also plans to send her children back to class next week with their masks – just like Martha Crealock.

“My kids and I will continue to wear N95s for sure for the foreseeable future,” she said.

“I don’t want to get COVID, but I’m much more concerned about the spread of COVID, so I’m happy to wear a mask.”

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