ICYMI: Mississauga and Brampton high school teachers say it's not safe to return to classrooms
Public high school teachers in Mississauga and Brampton say schools are not safe to re-open.
The teachers, members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) say "enhanced measures" that will be put into place when in-class learning begins again next week, don't go far enough making educators vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
The teachers also want to receive the COVID vaccine before classes begin.
However, Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region's Medical Officer of Health, believes protocols are in place for the safe return to school and says at this point, other groups must be vaccinated before the teachers because of limited supplies of the medication.
In a letter sent by Ryan Harper of the OSSTF District 19 -- Peel to Dr. Loh, the teachers say they have concerns about the return to classrooms, pointing out the "enhanced measures" don't seem all that enhanced.
"I don't see any real changes that will make our schools safer on February 16 than they were prior to the lockdown," writes Harper who goes on to ask Dr. Loh why he supports the plan to re-open schools.
The letter says outbreaks have continued to occur in Peel schools without being reported to the public and that teachers will be returning to schools in high risk communities.
The teachers also ask for smaller class sizes to allow for physical distancing, air filtration and ventilation in all classrooms, asymptomatic testing at all schools, and enhanced cleaning of classrooms every day.
"We also need vaccinations in the arms of education workers before they return to schools where case numbers are as high as they currently are," Harper writes. "Without real measures to enhance safety in our schools, they should not be re-opening for in-person learning."
The letter goes on to ask Dr. Loh for his help in ensuring these safer measures.
Responding to some of these issues today, Dr. Loh said he believes it is safe for a return to in-class learning.
He said Peel Public Health will continue with the more effective single-symptom screening which goes beyond the Provincial measure of the dual-symptom screening approach. "This will provide an additional level of protection and ensure that individuals who are not symptomatic are presenting at our schools."
Additionally, Dr. Loh said access to isolation facilities, an expansion of rapid testing and the availability of more overall testing in Peel are just some of the enhanced measures in place that allow for quick responses to outbreaks. He added mobile testing is also likely to be available soon.
"There are number of measures that have been taken," Dr. Loh said. "It is important to remember that we are also now at a level of community transmission that is reflective of where we were in the late fall, and we did manage to make it through the fall term with limited transmissions in school settings. The evidence is very clear that the measures that were there in the fall that we are now building on with this re-opening in the winter, means that schools will continue to remain a fairly safe venue for educators and students."
As for vaccinating teachers in advance, Dr. Loh said that won't be happening as supplies of the vaccine is limited and that those of greater risk of dying will receive the medication first.
"We recognize that teachers, like many others essential workers, face a risk," Dr. Loh said. "But we also recognize that those who face the most severe outcomes and death are being prioritized at this time."
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