Dr. Eileen de Villa wouldn’t give a direct answer during Wednesday’s press conference about whether or not the city’s schools are ready to reopen.
Toronto’s medical officer of health would only say that COVID-19 transmission remains high in the city but that she believes in-class learning is beneficial for kids.
“We are strongly in support of in-person learning so long as it can be provided in a safe environment,” de Villa said.
She added that Toronto will wait for the provincial government to make a decision on schools reopening in the coming days or weeks.
Canadian Press reporter Holly McKenzie-Sutter asked de Villa whether she’s comfortable with schools reopening next week with COVID-19 indicators right now, but de Villa wouldn’t give a clear answer.
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“I certainly have a lot of hope,” she said. “I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed … What we can all do together is do our very best to reduce transmission of COVID-19.”
Next, CBC journalist Derick Deonarain asked de Villa if local medical officers of health should make decisions on reopening schools.
De Villa responded that although she and her team with Toronto Public Health have expertise in controlling COVID-19, she doesn’t “pretend to know all the circumstances, needs, and considerations when it comes to operating schools.”
She would rather wait to see what the province proposes, and see if COVID-19 levels in the city would permit Toronto to follow that plan.
“My responsibility is to the people of Toronto where we continue to have COVID-19 circulating at relatively high levels,” she said. “Things are definitely improving. [I’m] certainly interested in having students get that benefit of in-person learning.”
When Toronto Star journalist David Rider asked a final time about whether Toronto’s schools are ready to reopen, de Villa declined to say yes or no.
“I am continuing to want to drive down levels of disease … And it’s what best ensures safety of students [and] school staff,” she said. “The more we can drive down COVID-19 transmission … the safer it is for our children.”
Ontario released its reopening plan last week that will see patio dining and non-essential retail return as of approximately June 14. Although the plan described restriction relaxations tied to vaccination milestones, it didn’t mention when students would return to class.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said he wants schools to reopen before Ontario starts Step 1 in mid-June.
“My position always has been that schools should be the last to close and first to open,” he said Tuesday.
But he’s open to doing a regional approach that would see students in low-transmission areas head back to school before children in regions with high burdens of disease.
The latest modelling from the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released last week predicted schools could reopen as early as June 2 with a “manageable” bump in COVID-19 infections. Their modelling predicted reopening schools would lead to a 6% to 11% increase in cases.
Neither Premier Doug Ford nor Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said when schools will reopen, or when a decision is coming. They’ve been closed province-wide since early April to slow virus transmission.