Windsor-Essex medical health officer hopes to keep local schools open

Desks are spread out at St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School in Amherstburg, Ont. on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (Rich Garton / CTV Windsor)

The medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex says he hopes schools can remain open, but he would consider issuing a Section 22 order to revert to online learning if needed.

Dr. Wajid Ahmed issued the order to close schools in December, a week before the winter break, as COVID-19 cases increased dramatically. On Tuesday, he indicated the region isn’t at that point.

"Never say never, but I hope we don't have to get to that point, and we can keep what we have open in a safe manner without putting anyone at risk," said Ahmed.

There are no current school outbreaks, but there were 14 cohorts dismissed recently, impacting about 600 students and 30 staff members.

Ahmed says there are a number of factors that they have to consider before making the call to close schools to in-class learning.

"The local epidemiology, the background community cases, where these sources are coming from, the acquisition sources, the risk of spread in the community versus the risk of spread in the school, who is impacted by it, what kind of practices are in place," says Ahmed.

WECHU is looking at all of the data and the evidence. Ahmed presented the data in the health unit’s YouTube livestream on Tuesday morning.

He says Windsor-Essex is currently reporting between four and eight cases in school-aged children per day. The majority of students are contracting the virus from a household contact and not from transmission in the schools.

The data shows students ages 14 to 17 have a higher per cent positivity than younger kids.

Health unit CEO Theresa Marentette says there are many protocols in place to keep students and staff safe.

“We do have a good system in place,” says Marentette, adding the planning and notification is happening in a timely manner to help prevent the spread.

Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel region's medical officer of health, ordered schools in Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga to move classes online on Tuesday.

In a statement Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said it is the government’s "firm belief" that schools should remain open for in-person learning in Ontario.

"They are critical to student mental health," a statement from Lecce's office said. "Due to our strong infection prevention measures, 99 per cent of students and staff have no active cases of COVID-19, however we must remain vigilant and keep our guard up in order to keep schools safe and open."

With files from CTVNewsToronto.ca.