Science Table suggest Ontario has a better grasp on pandemic; remote learning to continue

·3 min read

Data from a recent Science Table suggests Ontario can return to a form of normal this summer.

An update on pandemic modelling was presented on May 20 at Queens Park. According to the modelling, the declines in daily cases, hospitalizations, and positive COVID-19 tests suggest public health officials are getting a better handle on pandemic control.

However, even with the encouraging trends, Ontario should maintain some COVID-19 restrictions until at least mid-June to avoid a fourth wave in the fall, top doctors suggested.

According to the latest round of COVID-19 modelling from the Science Advisory Table, people should still wear masks unless they’re outdoors and distanced, and many familiar summer activities shouldn’t go completely back to normal yet.

Dr. Steini Brown, Science Table co-chair, said he recommended only camping close by with members of your household and advised wearing masks while playing close-contact sports such as basketball. Playing singles tennis is fairly safe, but wearing a mask while playing doubles tennis makes it safer.

“It’s not yet time to carpool, grab food afterwards, or share indoor spaces such as clubhouses or change rooms,” said Brown. “The public health measures, no matter how taxing and frustrating, have helped stop the spread. If we’re careful and cautious, we can maintain this momentum.”

Brown and his colleague Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, were optimistic at the May 20 news conference regarding the impact vaccinations and public health measures are having. In fact, the province predicts ICU admissions could decline below 500 by mid-June.

The numbers show Ontario’s weekly average for test positivity has fallen to 6.4 percent. This was a decline from the peak of the third wave when it was above 10 percent.

The Science Table praised Ontario’s efforts to vaccinate hotspots, and added continued immunization efforts are key to enjoying a less restricted summer. Between May 2 and May 15, case rates dropped in 26 of Ontario’s 34 public health units, with Peel and Toronto showing the most dramatic declines.

The modelling also suggests a potential reopening of Ontario schools in June. As cases come down, health officials are pushing for schools to reopen to benefit students and their working parents. Sending students back to class could lead to a 6 percent to 11 percent increase in cases. Brown said a slight rise in cases might take place if schools reopen after June 2, but any increase would be “manageable.”

According to the data, vaccinating 12 to 17-year-olds could also make school reopening easier.

“Schools should be the last thing to close and the first thing to open. They have a critical role,” said Brown.

The Science Table ran modelling that predicts schools opening on either June 2 or 16. Williams, however, stopped short of recommending a particular day to get students back in classrooms.

“We know it’s been a tough year for everyone,” said Williams. “I would like it by June. For which day, I’ll have to be in consultation with the Ministry of Education and School Boards as well.”

But Ford said that given the risk that reopening schools pose, they would continue to operate under teacher-led remote learning.

“We can’t afford an increase of 11 percent right now,” said Ford.

While Ford says Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, is in favour of reopening schools, there are teachers and other health officials who “have differing opinions.”

“We have to get a consensus from all of the doctors,” said Ford.

The province says data will be assessed on an ongoing basis. Additionally, medical experts and other health officials will be consulted to determine if it may be safe to resume in-person learning.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News

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