Statement regarding provincial return-to-school decision

Published on: February 2, 2021

Last week, Medical Officers of Health were consulted as part of the Province’s decision about which schools would re-open and which would remain closed. While Brant County Health Unit Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Elizabeth Urbantke gave the local perspective on the ongoing COVID-19 response in Brant and that input was taken into consideration, the final decision on school re-opening rests with the Province. The characterization that local public health units were the final decision makers is not accurate.

Each jurisdiction has unique circumstances to consider when advising on issues such as this one. Looking purely at one health unit’s numbers vs. another will not give a complete picture.

As Brant entered the second wave, we’ve had weeks with relatively low indicators, followed by weeks where our indicators have risen to levels that would be considered on the higher end, relative to provincial rates. It’s important to ensure that our local numbers have truly stabilized before a decision of this scope is made. We want to ensure students and parents can experience some stability after schools re-open and we want to avoid dismissing class cohorts as best we can.   

The geography of Brant also means our community is very interconnected to areas that are still seeing relatively high levels of transmission of COVID-19. We know that many of our residents travel in and out of higher transmission areas every day for essential reasons. We understand that our community does not exist in a bubble and cases do not simply cease to exist at our municipal borders. Many staff and even some students in our area schools also travel in from other jurisdictions as well.

Brant’s school boards are non-designated with conventional delivery. Many of the other school boards that have returned are on an adapted model, meaning they have class cohorts of no more than 15 students, on alternating schedules.

Everyone at the Health Unit understands that this is a difficult time for students, parents and teachers and fully supports the safe return to school as soon as possible. We know that schools are integral for children’s emotional and social well-being. That is why the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health, of which Dr. Urbantke is a member of, sent a letter to Ontario’s Education Minister last week requesting that schools be prioritized before re-opening other sectors. 

As Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams stated yesterday, “we are keeping the safety of children, teachers and schools at the forefront.”