Ontario confirmed more than 300 cases of COVID-19 at the start of the school year – a number that an expert says indicates the virus is spreading faster than last year and is ringing alarm bells about closures schools from Thanksgiving.
Ahmed Al-Jaishi, epidemiologist and postdoctoral fellow at the Ottawa Health Research Institute, said he was shocked to see 328 confirmed cases among students and staff reported when the province released its first set of data Tuesday.
“I don’t know what I was expecting,” Al-Jaishi said. “But my instinctive reaction was, ‘that’s a lot’. ”
Based on his research, Al-Jaishi said community transmission for people under the age of 20 is six times higher than last year. This year, Al Jaishi found that there are 60 cases of COVID-19 per million for people under the age of 20. The number was 10 cases per million last year.
Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, does not find the new provincial coronavirus figures “surprising” at all.
She said the Delta variant is more transmissible and that “schools… have the largest set of unvaccinated people” with different ventilation systems. “Some are inadequate, many of them have no physical distance, and in grade 7 and below they have unvaccinated students and teachers.”
She says easing the criteria for students to stay home was a “mistake” and the province should have kept symptoms on the list like a runny nose.
“Any child with new symptoms should stay home. It is better to keep children at home with stricter criteria than to send whole classes home or close a school, ”she added.
Provincial data going back to Aug. 23 and released Tuesday shows that of the 4,844 schools attended in the province, 218 schools – or about 5% – have confirmed cases of employees or students. At the same time last year, there were less than 30 confirmed cases in schools, according to archived data.
Avenue Road Public School in Cambridge and David Maxwell Public School in Windsor both have the highest rate, with each school having eight cases in total.
According to provincial data, there are 14 cases of COVID-19 in 13 schools in Toronto, the majority among students.
La Mosaïque Elementary School in East York has the most schools in Toronto with two confirmed cases. The remaining twelve Toronto schools each have a case.
Toronto Public Health, meanwhile, is investigating 23 schools that may have cases of COVID-19. The province’s figures are for confirmed cases only and do not specify the source of the infection.
They may also fall behind on other reports. For example, Ontario specifically warns that if there are discrepancies between its data and data from a public health unit, the data from the public health unit should be considered the most up-to-date figures.
Last week, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Kieran Moore said that while people should expect some COVID-19 activity during the school year, schools are relatively safe. Moore cited federal data showing that 87% of students who contracted COVID-19 during the school year contracted it outside of school.
Al-Jaishi has independently monitored the number of cases in Ontario schools since last September.
Because the school year has just started, most of these cases are the result of community transmission rather than school transmission, he said.
“If cases increase in schools, we know that cases will increase in the community, just because children don’t live in silos – they interact with family members, friends and other members of the community.” , Al-Jaishi said. “I think (the number of school cases) is an important indicator of what’s going to happen in the community. “
Although the province is committed to keeping children in school without interruptions, especially with more widespread immunization, Al Jaishi is not convinced this school year will go smoothly amid the ongoing pandemic.
“I feel like right now we’re set to fail and we’re ready to see early school closings, potentially Thanksgiving or more likely by Christmas,” Al-Jaishi said. “I hope that doesn’t happen, but if nothing changes, that’s where I personally see him going. “
Dr Banerji, on the other hand, doesn’t think there will be a universal school closure, but strongly advocates vaccination of children. “COVID will continue to spread in schools and schools in the community until we can get the vast majority of children immunized.
“They should have a policy in place for mandatory vaccinations of teachers and eligible students to keep schools open… They need to do the right thing and pay attention to the science. “
With files from Anushka Yadav.
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