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Jarvis: Schools reopen Monday, now we need to make sure they stay open

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The schools will reopen on Monday, as it should.

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Now, we need to make sure they stay open.

Under the current restrictions of Ontario, you can go to a mall, do a haircut, do a manicure. But children can not go to real schools with real teachers, classes and other children.

It’s confusing.

This is the third year in a row that education has been discontinued. Schools have closed three times, four in Windsor and Essex County. They have been closed for a total of more than 27 weeks, longer than anywhere else in Canada and much of Europe.

We agreed that schools should be the last to close and the first to open. This is not aspirational. It is essential. It is essential that children learn, socialize and develop. We need to protect schools just as we protect health care.

The data show that student achievement has declined, according to the Ontario COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Board in its latest report this week, and learning disruption is cumulative and consistent.

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The extreme absenteeism of students, defined as the absence of more than half an hour, is six times higher.

It is not just learning that is affected.

Evidence shows a deterioration in children’s mental health that is substantial and sustained, the report said.

The number of children with clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety has almost tripled to one in four
for depression and one in five for anxiety.

Exterior of the public school Dr.  David Suzuki in Windsor appears on Friday.
Exterior of the public school Dr. David Suzuki in Windsor appears on Friday. Photo by Dan Janisse /Ylli Windsor

Social isolation has been a major contributor.

And all this is unfairly complicated for the most vulnerable children, those from low-income families, whose parents work in essential jobs and who may not have computers, high speed internet, a place for studied or supervised.

It is clear that virtual learning is not a substitute for real schools.

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This is about weighing the risks.

There will be cases of COVID-19 in schools.

But new evidence cited by the scientific table shows that children and young people aged five to 19 are less likely to experience serious illnesses from the Omicron variant. While the hospitalization rate for children up to four years old is 8.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, it drops to 1.3 for ages five to 11 and 1.4 for ages 12 to 19.

And often, hospitalization is associated with other factors such as a chronic medical condition or not being vaccinated.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children was approved on November 19, and a week later, Canada had enough to administer the first dose to every child in the country. However, on Friday, only 38 percent of children in Windsor and Essex County had received the first dose and the vaccination rate has slowed.

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We know what else we can do to operate the masks and proper school ventilation, grouping and distancing, testing and examination to function safely. The government is providing N95 masks for teachers, three-layer masks for students, HEPA filters and quick tests.

Here’s the big key: controlling COVID-19 in the community.

The closure of schools has not significantly reduced the spread of the virus in the community compared to other public health measures, at least ahead of Omicron, according to the science chart. It is the other way around. Cases in schools come mainly from the community.

That is why we need stronger vaccine mandates.

Two more deaths from COVID-19 were reported in Windsor and Essex County on Friday. There were 270 other cases, though the number is probably much higher because not all were being tested for symptoms. There are a total of 3,716 active cases, 104 people in hospitals, though not all are there mainly due to COVID-19, and 67 outbreaks.

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Some hospitals are overcrowded. Schools and businesses are closed. The shortage in some jobs is growing. Omicron hit harder and faster than anyone expected.

However, we were not doing everything we could. We reasoned, based on evidence. We have prayed, been ashamed, punished. We have offered awards. But many people remain unvaccinated.

Accommodate the unvaccinated, says Conservative leader Erin OToole. If we accommodate the rest of us, children who can not go to school, patients whose surgeries have been canceled, who have been laid off or lost their businesses, the elderly in long-term care homes who cannot leave their rooms .

This is a public health emergency. And vaccine mandates increase vaccination rates.

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It is not about punishing people who are not vaccinated. It is about protecting everyone.

Yes, people have the right to refuse vaccination. But again, this is a public health emergency. No one has the right to endanger others. And this is what the unvaccinated are doing by spreading the virus and filling hospitals.

All health care workers should be vaccinated. All teachers and students should be vaccinated. All those living and working in collection facilities should be vaccinated.

Quebec has announced that you must be vaccinated to access liquor and cannabis stores. Ontario should do it. You need to get vaccinated to go to the big stores, Quebec announced. Ontario should do this and add all non-essential stores and services. If you want a vaccine passport, you need a booster vaccine as soon as everyone has had the opportunity to get one, Quebec also announced. Ontario should do the same.

We have the tools. Now we need the will.

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