‘Need to be patient’: North Bay Parry Sound health unit on school closures

·2 min read

At the weekly North Bay Parry Sound health unit news conference on Thursday, April 15, chief medical officer Jim Chirico addressed the provincial announcement that Ontario schools would be moving to online learning after April break.

“The best way for our students to get back into classrooms is ensuring we have low community spread. That is something we can control,” said Chirico.

On the importance of in-person learning, Louise Gagne the executive director of community services for the health unit, emphasized the health unit does recognize that in-person learning is the ideal situation.

“The situation (that) we’re experiencing across the province has escalated to a point where the province felt that it needed to make a necessary and important decision to close schools across the province in addition to implementing the stay-at-home order,” said Gagne. “When the time comes, local authorities will be consulted, and we will be able to advocate to return to in-person learning.”

Following public health measures is the fastest way to get back to in-person learning, according to Chirico.

“The biggest risk to the schools is if we have high case numbers in our community, and that’s something we can control and work to lessen. So, we will follow the province’s direction, but there’s lots we can do locally to ensure we get back to school quickly,” he said.

However, it won’t just be one or two indicators that will determine when kids can return to school, said Chirico.

“We have to take so many factors into play and analyze them, and it’s not just within our district — our district numbers may be low, but we have to be very aware of what’s happening provincially and what’s happening to neighbouring health units,” he said.

The escalating number of cases in the province correlates to the rising number of community spread in the North Bay Parry Sound district.

“We are seeing more and more community spread even within our own district where people are not sure where they acquired the disease from and we need to keep the community transmission low in order to keep our schools open,” said Gagne.

“Local evidence will be used to inform whether or not it’s safe to open schools within a particular district. We just need to be patient.”

Sarah Cooke’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Sarah Cooke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Parry Sound North Star