The medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex says he supports a return to in-person learning for students.
Speaking with CBC Radio's Windsor Morning on Monday, Dr. Wajid Ahmed said he, along with Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health, are calling for the resumption of in-classroom instruction.
"Now that the case rates are declining, our vaccination rates are going up, it is time that we should be focusing more on the mental health and mental well-being of our children rather than the risk of COVID," Ahmed said.
Students have been learning from home since April, a decision that was implemented as the province was in the grips of the third wave of the pandemic.
While Ahmed said he backs the reopening of schools, he acknowledged there is no "risk-free option."
"Despite the school closure, we've seen some cases in the younger children, so essentially they are ... contracting the disease either through their family members ... or through other types of activities that are putting them at a risk," he said.
In a two-week period, 20 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in the region were among those 19 and under, according to data presented by the health unit on Friday. But COVID-19 case counts have fallen overall, and the active case count stands at 232.
And so far, Ahmed said the region is doing well with vaccine uptake among youth — all of those 12 and up became eligible just over a week ago. He said close to 6,000 people have gotten vaccinated so far, and teachers have long had opportunity to get a vaccine if they choose.
Ford's call for advice
On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford solicited advice from medical experts, educators and health organizations on how to reopen schools before the end of the school year. Ford sent out the letter that morning, asking for feedback by Friday at 5 p.m.
Ahmed said that the council, a body representing the chief medical officers in the province's 34 public health units, felt it was important to have a unified response on the issue.
The organization was among a long list of health-care authorities, including Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table and the Ontario Medical Association, that signed a letter supporting the reopening of schools.
"We believe that Ontario can re-open schools safely on a regional basis to mitigate the significant short and long-term harms arising from school closures, while managing the risk of virus transmission in this sector," the letter stated.
Ford's call for feedback, as well as the short deadline that was set, sparked some criticism from teachers' unions in Windsor-Essex.
"It is 14 months too late. We've been asking for this since the pandemic began," Mario Spagnuolo, local president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, said last week.