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Hamilton’s top doctor says school closures crucial to breaking COVID-19 ‘chains of transmission’

Hamilton’s medical officer of health is supportive of the province’s decision to close schools for in-person learning after the spring break, saying it will be a “good chance” to break the transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

During an update on Monday, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said what happens in schools is reflective of what happens in the community and the steady increase in local cases was definitely having an impact before the break.

“At this point, as cases continue to increase and the province making a call that there’s so that there’s consistency across the province … this will be a good thing — a good chance to hopefully break chains of transmission,” said Dr. Richardson.

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Ontario students move to virtual learning indefinitely amid record-high COVID-19 cases

While the average size of COVID-19 outbreaks at Hamilton schools has been relatively small, she said it’s nonetheless been taking a toll on operations at those schools.

“We take a very conservative approach when it comes to managing cases in schools. So that means a lot of students being asked to stay home in quarantine while testing is done and while there’s follow-up,” she said.

“We also are asking the same of teachers who are sometimes in those classrooms or others that are on the bus with them. And so operationally it’s becoming very, very challenging for the schools to manage.”

Eleven of Hamilton’s active outbreaks are in schools and there have been 51 cases of COVID-19 recorded across the city’s public and Catholic boards since the beginning of the break on Friday.

Vaccination is currently not open to all teachers in Hamilton, but public health is beginning to vaccinate special education workers.

Read more:
Hamilton reports 134 new COVID-19 cases, over 1,000 active cases

The leader of Ontario’s NDP and MPP for Hamilton Centre is accusing the Ford government of “marching” the province back into another school shutdown.

“It should never have come to this,” said Andrea Horwath in a media release on Monday. “This time, [Ford] needs to spend the money to make all schools safe to return to — the health of students, teachers and education workers is worth it.”

The opposition NDP is calling on the government to vaccinate all school staff, as well as for caps on class sizes and school bus capacities, on-site testing, upgrades to ventilation, and investments in safety measures like touchless faucets.

Click to play video: Take a look inside Hamilton’s mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at FirstOntario Centre

During Monday’s announcement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce insisted that in-school transmission of COVID-19 has remained low due to safety measures already implemented by the province.

“Prior to the April break, more than 99 per cent of students and staff did not have an active case of COVID-19,” said Lecce.

“Medical experts, including our province’s chief medical officer of health, have been clear that with appropriate measures in place, our schools are safe.”

He said the Ontario-wide school closure is necessary to curb the rise in COVID-19 cases, as well as increasing hospitalizations and strains on the health care system.

Read more:
COVID-19 outbreak closes a Hamilton Mountain Catholic school, students to virtual learn

Asymptomatic COVID-19 testing is being offered at multiple schools in Hamilton over the spring break.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board will have a drop-in clinic at Nora Frances Henderson Secondary School on Thursday, April 15 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Three drop-in asymptomatic testing clinics will be offered between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at schools in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board over the spring break:

  • Thursday, April 15 at St. John Henry Newman Catholic Secondary School
  • Friday, April 16 at Cathedral High School
  • Saturday, April 17 at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School

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