Local councils confirm N95 masks have arrived, unions argue it’s not enough

School case reporting and contact tracing have ceased and will not resume with classroom learning next week

N95 masks promised to teachers across the province have arrived for local schools, but HEPA filters have not been delivered, and teachers’ unions say more will be needed to secure classrooms.

The Simcoe County District School Board and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board have confirmed that the first shipment of N95 masks have arrived and have been delivered to local schools.

Public Council Chairman Jodi Lloyd, director of Orillia, Ramara and Severn, said untested N95 masks will be part of the board’s regular PPE orders in the future, and teachers will have the option to wear an N95 or a surgical mask while at school.

The public council is supposed to receive around 60 HEPA filters, but they haven’t arrived.

The Catholic council has confirmed the masks are in, but the 35 HEPA filters promised to them out of the 3,000 delivered by the province have not yet arrived.

Pauline Stevenson, communications director for the Simcoe Muskoka District Catholic School Board, said the board had not been told when they might arrive.

Even with the new delivery of filters, Lloyd said there won’t be a HEPA filter for every classroom.

Provincial back-to-school guidelines in September 2021 called for a HEPA filter in every kindergarten classroom.

Lloyd said there is now mechanical air exchanger ventilation for every classroom in the Simcoe County District School Board, and that they use the best quality filters available.

Sarah Kekewich, communications director for the public school board, said their schools’ ventilation systems meet or exceed ministry standards and are only part of the overall COVID-19 mitigation strategy.

Teacher unions, however, say more needs to be done.

After a government insider confirmed to media on Jan.10 that in-person learning would be resume january 17, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) issued a press release saying it was upset to hear the news from reporters on social media rather than through consultations with the government.

The last official provincial announcement on this subject indicated that the class would be virtual until “at least” January 17th. Education Minister Stephen Lecce is expected to announce the return to in-person learning at a press conference on January 12.

“We ask ourselves once again what has been done to ensure that in-person learning can return safely and sustainably, and why isn’t the Ford government consulting ETFO or sharing not his plans with us directly? ETFO President Karen Brown asked in the press release.

Jen Hare, Simcoe District President for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, also called the current situation a “lack of leadership” as a “confirmed rumor” replaced an “appropriate announcement” .

“Nothing was put in place last week to make schools safer other than an offer of an N95 mask for those who choose to wear them,” Hare said.

She pointed out that some of the proactive measures used before the winter break, such as reporting school cases and tracing contacts, have been taken out of the equation.

Across Ontario, the practice of reporting school cases has ceased and will not resume with in-person learning. This change is in part due to the fact that not everyone can take a PCR test now, and therefore cases will not always be confirmed by the tests.

As a result, children who come in contact with someone with COVID may not be notified.

Those who show symptoms of illness, whether teachers or students, are advised to self-isolate as if they have COVID. Anyone who tests positive on a rapid test should also assume they have COVID and will not need a PCR test to confirm.

ETFO and Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association (elementary and secondary unions) call for a ‘safe return’ to school that includes a return to monitoring and reporting of school cases, as well as HEPA filters in all classrooms.

Unions also want to see stricter mask mandates for students and teachers with better guidelines to improve compliance and good access to rapid antigen testing for all school staff and students.

On January 5, Dr Charles Gardner, medical officer of health with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said he believes a reopening of classrooms in person on January 17 may be difficult if the number of cases continues. to increase.

“We would be in favor of them doing whatever they can and whatever we can to enable it,” Gardner said. “For me, it has always been very important that schools be open across the province. Medical officers of health are very supportive of classroom education for the physical and mental well-being of children for their continuing education.

He confirmed that the health unit would not have detailed data on school cases and outbreaks to report publicly.

“I would say schools are probably safer than most other places kids could end up being because of all the measures they’ve put in place, but I wouldn’t be able to guarantee that they would be. completely free of transmission, ”Gardner said.

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