Reopening schools safe with precautions says EOHU

·3 min read

CORNWALL – Returning to school at this point is safe, with appropriate precautions. Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit said that the four main factors for deciding schools should reopen here, all were in the right direction.

Roumeliotis said that the decrease in the seven-day rolling average, stabilization of hospitalization numbers and of facility outbreaks, the reproductive rate of COVID-19 infections, and the test positivity rate were the contributing factors.

"We had the discussion with the Chief Medical Officer of Health [Dr. David Williams] this week about it and looking at the numbers," he said. "Because the numbers are going down, and they are certainly not where they were a couple of weeks ago, we feel that the level of community transmission will allow us to open the schools."

Roumeliotis explained that if schools had been opened earlier in January when community transmission numbers were higher, COVID-19 may not have been spread in schools but people could have entered the school already infected.

"It's not that the schools aren't safe," he said. "The higher the levels outside of the school, the easier it is to get into the schools."

As schools are reopening beginning February 2nd, Roumeliotis said there are more precautions being taken including masking for Grade 1-3 students, increased sanitizing, mandatory mask wearing outside when physical distancing cannot be done, and COVID-19 testing of students in school. With those measures, he said schools are safe to open.

"I think the time is right," he said, adding that the move balances the need for students to be in school with the decreased numbers in the community.

For the fourth day in a row, resolved cases outpaced new COVID-19 infections in the region. As of the January 29th reporting from the EOHU, there are 410 active cases, six fewer than the day before. The overall COVID-19 infection tally stands at 2,441 people since the pandemic reached the region 11 months ago.

South Dundas has five active cases, North Dundas 13 cases, and South Stormont has 25 cases. The City of Cornwall continues to have the highest number of active cases, but that has decreased significantly in the past week. Cornwall has 161 active cases, more than all municipalities in SDG Counties, or in Prescott-Russell.

The region's seven-day rolling average stands at 54.9 new infections per 100,000, one week ago that average was 93.8. If the province-wide lockdown and stay-at-home order was not in effect, the EOHU region would be in the Red-Control level of COVID-19 restrictions. The seven-day average has to drop below 40 per 100,000 to move back into Orange-Restrict.

Test positivity rates stand at three per cent according to Roumeliotis, and the region's reproductive rate according to the Ministry of Health is 0.77. In comparison, Ottawa reported its reproductive rate is 0.82, Toronto is 0.95.

Hospitalizations and Intensive Care Unit use is high, but stable. Twenty-four people are in hospital, six in ICU. Not all patients are in hospitals in the EOHU with some located in Ottawa. ICU occupancy is at 109 per cent, and the COVID-19 ICU occupancy is at nine per cent. There have been 52 deaths from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, 10 of those in January.

There are 18 active facility outbreaks in the region including GlenStorDun Lodge in Cornwall and Woodland Villa in Long Sault. Six staff and 15 residents have COVID-19 at Woodland Villa. There are no outbreaks in facilities located in Dundas County.

Since vaccinations were made available, 2,423 people have received at least one dose in the EOHU. All long-term care home residents have received their first dose. Vaccinations have slowed to a trickle across Canada as vaccine supply delivery was cut by manufacturer Pfizer-BioNTech.

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader