On Wednesday, January 20th, the Ontario government announced that schools in 7 health unit regions will be permitted to reopen for in-person classes, based on COVID-19 rates in those regions.
At this time, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) is not among the regions permitted to return to in-person classes. Online learning will continue for students in the EOHU region until the Ontario government determines that COVID-19 rates in our area have decreased enough for in-person classes to safely resume.
While this is disappointing news for many families, the evidence supports the government’s decision at this time.
Local data such as the positivity rate (percentage of tests in our area that are positive), the rolling weekly rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population, the high number of outbreaks, and the increase in COVID-related hospitalizations indicate that there is still a high level of community transmission across the EOHU territory, effectively putting the all areas of the EOHU region in the high-red or grey zone according to the government’s COVID-19 Response Framework. Furthermore, as of last week, the EOHU region was among the top 10 health unit regions in the province with the highest transmission rates. For these reasons, I support the government’s decision to continue remote learning for students in our region, until the COVID-19 data shows that new cases have decreased enough that it is safe to resume in-person classes.
There is good news, however. In recent days, there are signs that the provincial shutdown and stay-at-home restrictions are having a positive impact on new COVID-19 cases in the EOHU region. While there is still a high rate of community transmission in our area, we are starting to see a downward trend in new cases. If this trend continues, we can look forward to returning to in-person learning in the near future.
However, to ensure that we keep moving in the right direction, we need to continue working together and following public health measures to reduce the number of new cases of COVID-19 in our community. This includes staying at home as much as possible, wearing a mask and keeping a 2-metre distance from others when you must go into the community, and continuing with remote learning for the time being.
While it is understandable that many families are frustrated with the ongoing pandemic restrictions, our collective efforts will help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community, allowing our students to return to in-class learning sooner and with fewer disruptions caused by outbreaks. We are all in this together.
Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, MD, CM, MPH, FRCP(C), CCPE
Medical Officer of Health
Eastern Ontario Health Unit