Mackie says no need to close London area schools

Middlesex-London Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie during a COVID media briefing. ( file photo)

While several school boards in Ontario have moved to remote learning, the medical officer of health for the London area doesn’t think local schools need to follow suit.

Less than a week into the province’s third lockdown, school boards in Toronto, Peel, and Guelph have switched to full remote learning due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

During Tuesday’s COVID-19 media briefing, Middlesex-London Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie said that, while cases are being reported in local elementary and secondary schools, very few have been acquired or spread within schools.

“Transmission in schools is exceedingly rare in our area, that’s likely the case in other places as well,” Mackie said. “There was a declaration in Peel Region, where the medical officer of health issued a section 22 order to close schools, the situation there is incredibly different. They had way more cases and outbreaks in schools. But even in that circumstance, before their school investigation team was overwhelmed and they were still able to investigate cases, they were not finding evidence of spread in schools. What they were finding was cases in schools because of the testing of all students who had symptoms. They were finding outbreaks where likely the transmission wasn’t in the class, it was likely in the community, or even just in students that happened to be in the same class when a COVID wave was coming through their neighbourhood.”

Mackie said that, even though cases are being identified, it doesn’t mean schools are unsafe.

“When we talk about cases that are school cases or school outbreaks, it’s really important that we recognize the students are not in the school anymore. As soon as the student has symptoms they’re at home. As soon as they test positive, they’re at home.”

As of Tuesday, the London area had five active school-related outbreaks in which five students or fewer at each school have tested positive. Dr. Mackie believes more harm than good would come from closing schools right now.

“There’s no indication that we should be closing schools here. There are impacts on student learning, impacts on student mental health, and those impacts are disproportionately borne by the people that are already vulnerable.”

On Monday, two teachers’ unions released statements demanding the Ford government move all school boards to remote learning until education workers are added to the list of essential workers being vaccinated. Some union members also asked for class sizes to be reduced to help with physical distancing, along with improved ventilation of air filtration to make schools safer to attend for staff and students.

**correction** A previous version of this story implied that Dr. Mackie said that that some schools in the greater Toronto area have reported more cases and outbreaks due to increased testing. This was a misunderstanding of what Dr. Mackie said in the news briefing. Blackburn News regrets the error and apologizes to Dr. Mackie.