With New York City hitting the three-per-cent threshold in its seven-day COVID-19 test positivity rate, state and city officials made good on promised measures to move all students still participating in in-class learning to remote schooling as buildings across the city are closed.
“It’s a tough day, it was a tough decision,” lamented Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday.
“We will bring our schools back, but we’re going to have to reset the equation.”
The move, and the associated numbers, are enough to cause some on this side of the border to wonder why similar measures are not being taken in big Ontario cities cited has COVID-19 “hotspots.”
New York City has a population of just under 8.4 million people with an average positivity rate hovering around three per cent. The local department of education reported there were about 300,000 students still taking in-person classes before Wednesday’s announcement.
Toronto has a much smaller population with just fewer than three million residents — closer to six million if you factor in the entire GTA — but its test positivity rate stands around six per cent. The city has more than 226,000 children still in class between the public and Catholic school boards, and there are no immediate plans to change that.
“There have been some cases, but actually the school program put in place by the province and the school board have worked quite well,” remarked Mayor John Tory.
His sentiments were backed up by Toronto’s associate medical officer of health, Dr. Vinita Dubey.
“Despite the increase in cases that have occurred in the city … the outbreaks in schools, meaning the spread within the school setting, has actually been quite low,” she told Global News.
In fact, Dr. Dubey said given Toronto’s current patterns of infection, closing schools would actually be a detriment.
“We want to keep schools open … We know even from the latest literature that when schools were closed, there were harms associated with it,” she said.
“Children definitely need school not just for an education but for all those other really important things that schools provide.”
That doesn’t mean the idea is not on the radar. Tory told Global News that city officials “discuss it every morning,” but that even if it were deemed necessary, the decision would ultimately be made at Queen’s Park where it seems officials don’t have much interest.
“The safest place for children right now (is) actually in the schools,” said Premier Doug Ford at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
“When they go in, there’s a controlled environment, they have cohorts, and that’s the safest place for the kids.”
If, for whatever reason, Toronto were to make the call to move all students into digital classes, both school boards said they would be ready to adapt quickly.
“We’ve been reminding staff since the beginning of the year, the importance of making sure the (software platforms) are set up so that if we do have to switch to online, whether it be for a few days, a week or two, or longer, that we’re able to do so,” said Toronto District School Board spokesperson Ryan Bird.
Any decision to do so can’t be taken lightly; it would have a drastic effect on families. In New York City, in-person classes could be back in as soon as a month, but in the meantime many parents there are once again left trying to rearrange their days around the closure.