County’s top doctor calls for schools to reopen

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Renfrew County’s acting medical officer of health is calling for the province to reopen schools for the final month of the year.

In a letter to John Yakabuski earlier this week, Dr. Robert Cushman urges the local MPP and Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to “strongly advocate in support of this position.”

“We have a responsibility to get out kids back into the classroom,” he says.

Dr. Cushman says “wave three” of the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a “sharp downturn in Renfrew County and District (RCD), and the first dose vaccination rate has passed the 50% mark for adults 18 years of age and older.”

“Last week there were only 18 COVID-19 cases and 25 the week prior – many of these were anticipated as high-risk contacts of previous cases.

“Workplace outbreaks are in steep decline and the daily reported case numbers continue to drop. All good news thanks to the shutdown, the vaccine roll-out, and ongoing efforts by RCD residents.”

Schools need to reopen for the final month, Cushman continued.

“Our children have paid a big price. Their learning has been seriously interrupted,” he says.

“Social isolation has taken a toll on their mental health, working parents have been under enormous stress, and pre-existing social inequities have worsened. All compelling reasons, now that the pandemic is better controlled, to get students and teachers back into the classroom.”

Dr. Cushman says the “epidemiological evidence” shows “our schools are safe, and they have demonstrated exemplary public health precautions over the past year”

There have only been 43 school cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the school year, 11 staff and 32 students, Cushman notes.

“Most of these cases came from the community, and only a handful resulted from secondary spread within the schools. The risk has been and continues to be minimal.

“The collateral damage of not being in school, the devastating impact on learning, and the mounting concerns about mental health, far outweigh the risks of additional cases of COVID-19.”

“Schools in RCD can, and must, reopen for the remaining weeks of the school year,” he concludes.

“Our schools are safe, and students need to be in the classroom.”

Premier Doug Ford announced the province’s three-step “roadmap” to reopening May 20, but said schools would remain closed for now as there is a “difference of opinion” among the province’s medical experts on whether it is safe to reopen.

“I fully understand (parents’ frustration with the uncertainty). I talk to parents every day,” Ford said.

“We need to get everyone around the table and get a consensus.”

To read Dr. Cushman’s full letter, click here.

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