Ont. doctor suggests cancelling March Break to prevent another COVID-19 spike

One of Ontario's top doctors says in order to keep COVID-19 case counts moving down, this year's March Break should be cancelled.

And while some agree, at least one teachers' union does not. 

Eastern Ontario's medical officer of health, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, says he's confident that many schools are ready to open, despite new variants which the Minister of Education says could complicate the February 10 back-to-class date. 

Roumeliotis also thinks that March Break should be cancelled to avoid a repeat of the post-Christmas spike, after many people visited with family and friends. 

"I think if kids stay in school it's not going to be a problem," says Roumeliotis, who adds that schools can be effective at controlling spread. "Unless kids stay home and parents keep them home during spring break and don't mix with others then that's not going to be a problem but what we saw during Christmas break was really the opposite. The numbers really went up four fold in terms of positivity for the age group between 11 and 13 for example."

However, Harvey Bischof, president and CEO of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, says that educators, students and parents need a break and that the provincial government has failed to implement necessary safety measures and reduce class sizes. Bischof adds that in-person classes should not resume until Ontario can demonstrate clear and transparent metric on which it is basing its decisions. 

"I can't begin to understand the rationale for such a suggestion," says Bischof. "If they actually put in place a rigorous asymptomatic testing program, we wouldn't be talking about these half-measures whatsoever."

As we head towards six weeks of continued lockdowns and closed schools, it seems all there is for kids and parents to do is to slide down a hill. 

That is exactly what Danielle Veal and her two sons, seven-year-old Jackson and Jameson, four, do almost everyday. While Veal has been dealing with the lockdown protocols relatively well, she says her kids and many others are not. 

“Our children have to suffer because people won’t follow the rules," says Veal, who agrees that March Break should be cancelled if it means keeping kids in class. "It’s not that I think people don't deserve a break … there’s nowhere to go. I’m going to the wonderful land of couch in my pyjamas."

Veal says it's important for the mental health of children to return to the classroom and Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches agrees, emphasizing that the city is ready. 

"My recommendation to open schools comes from seeing the decline in the percentage of people testing positive," says Etches. "Community transmission in Ottawa is similar to or lower now than it was in our peak in October when schools were open and we managed."

A spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce writes, “As we have done throughout this pandemic, we will continue to rely on the expert advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, in order to keep schools safe for students, staff and families.”

Veal's hope is that COVID-19 case counts and a month-long lockdown from Christmas past will be enough of reminder for those who are looking forward to March Break travels. 

"It’s really sad because they said, 'Oh, no, it’s going to be fine, the kids will go back to school in January,' and look what happened," says Veal.