Island trustee, board director of education say student masking the healthy option

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RAINBOW DISTRICT—While the province of Ontario announced that most COVID-19 health and safety measures in schools ended on Monday, March 21 and there will be no mandatory masking, cohorting, distancing and confirmation of screening in schools, it is still being recommended by Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) that students and staff continue to wear masks. This position is supported by the director of the Rainbow District School Board and a Manitoulin Island school trustee.

“The provincial government’s decision (through the chief medical officer of health) to drop masking mandates in schools effective yesterday, is very concerning,” said Manitoulin Trustee Margaret Stringer at a RDSB meeting last week. “That decision flew in the face of recommendations from the government’s own science advisory table, the Children’s Health Coalition, which includes Sick Kids Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and many others who urged the government to wait a couple of weeks in order to see the impact of March break.”

“The decision comes at a time when testing is extremely limited, and publicly available data, which would inform personal decision-making, is minimal,” said Trustee Stringer. She explained, “at the same time as the provincial government has removed mask mandates in publicly funded schools, private schools have been allowed to maintain mask requirements as they see fit to respond to local health conditions.  This seems an odd double standard.”

Trustee Stringer had noted that while providing her thoughts and concerns regarding the removal of mask mandates in school, “the past two years have been long and difficult as the world has dealt with COVID. Students, staff and parents have responded to the challenges and, while the pandemic is not over, it seems we are closer to a new normal. Things like remote learning and cohorting should soon be relics of the past and we are very much looking forward to in-person graduations this spring.”

“This is great news, and I heartily congratulate everyone; every student, every staff member, every parent, on doing what was needed to keep people safe and healthy while providing our students with the best educational experience possible given the circumstances,” continued Trustee Stringer.

“All of that said, we cannot change this decision, and so we must all continue to adapt and do the best we can given the circumstances. As trustees, we expect that everyone will be respectful of each other  as they make their choices whether to wear masks or not,” said Trustee Stringer. “At the same time, I believe it is critical that we note the recent advice of our local medical officer of health, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe.”

“On March 10, Dr. Sutcliffe stated that COVID is still circulating widely, the risk of infection has not passed, and that the PHSD area continues to have higher COVID rates than the rest of the province. Dr. Sutcliffe reminded us that masking is still a simple and effective tool to protect yourself and those around you, and also strongly recommended the continued use of masking in indoor public settings.” “We all need to do everything we can to safeguard the progress we have made, and keep each other safe. To that end, I strongly encourage all students and staff to follow the advice of Dr. Sutcliffe.”

RDSB Director of Education Bruce Bourget told the board earlier in the meeting, “as you know, yesterday we reached a milestone in the province, when the Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health lifted most COVID-19 health and safety measures as of March 21. There will be no mandatory masking, cohorting, distancing and confirmation of screening. Gatherings, such as in-person graduations, will be permitted once again. Schools will also reopen for visitors who must pass the school screening tool prior to entry.”

“Let’s continue to be kind and considerate as we respect personal choice when school resumes,” said Mr. Bourget. He noted as well that Dr. Sutcliffe, “continues to strongly recommend the use of masks in indoor public settings to protect against COVID-19 infection. This recommendation comes in the wake of the announcement by the province’s Chief Medical Officer of health that mask requirements in most settings will end on Monday, March 21.”

“Despite recent promising trends in local COVID-19 metrics, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is still circulating widely and the risk of infection and risk to our health care system has not passed,” stated Mr. Bourget, reading from Dr. Sutcliffe’s statement. “‘This is why I am strongly recommending that people continue to wear masks when in indoor crowded spaces, and especially if they have higher personal health risks or if their close circle includes those who are vulnerable to severe infection’.”