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‘We’re not in a lockdown when schools are open,’ Toronto-area doctors warn

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WATCH ABOVE: It’s day two of virtual learning in Ontario. As parents scramble to balance their children’s educational needs with their own work responsibilities, a warning from two GTA-area doctors about the impending return to classes. As Caryn Lieberman reports, they insist schools should stay shut down – Jan 5, 2021

Students in elementary and high schools across Ontario are engaged in virtual learning from home this week, but two Toronto-area doctors say schools in the GTA should not reopen for in-person learning so soon.

“Schools in the GTA should not open on Jan. 11,” said emergency physician Dr. Lisa Salamon, who works in an east-end Toronto hospital.

“We do not have distinct borders, our case numbers have risen exponentially, our hospitals are full, our hospital beds are full, our ICUs are full, we’re cancelling surgeries, we’re calling all sorts of elective procedures.”

Read more: Students return to virtual school as part of Ontario coronavirus lockdown measures

A mother of three, Salamon acknowledged that virtual learning is especially hard on working parents, but she pointed out that “we’re not in a lockdown when schools are open.”

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Her opinion is echoed by another emergency physician who works in the city’s northwest, at Humber River Hospital, which currently has more than 60 COVID-19 patients.

“I don’t feel it’s right for kids to be going to school right now,” said Dr. Stan Salkauskis.

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“The best way and the only way of really stopping this epidemic is to stop person-to-person transmission and when kids go to school, they’re not going to stay far apart and they’re going to spread it.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ontario students return to virtual learning' Coronavirus: Ontario students return to virtual learning
Coronavirus: Ontario students return to virtual learning – Jan 4, 2021

In England, a national lockdown has shut down schools until at least February.

According to reports in Quebec, the province is considering taking similar measures and closing schools for several weeks.

Salamon and Salkauskis say the same steps should be taken in Ontario.

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“These kids who are playing in the schoolyards and so forth. When they come home I’m afraid that they’re going to be the spreaders in our society,” said Salkauskis.

Read more: What students in London, Ont., can expect from online learning

Salamon said making a move now would improve the coronavirus situation in the long term.

“If we want our lives to return to normal, if we want our children’s lives to return to normal, we have to do this for the short term so in the long term we can get back to normal,” said Salamon.

She added that many patients are coming into her ER from multi-generational homes with COVID-19.

“So if the children go to school and get mild symptoms or they’re asymptomatic … they’re coming home and interacting with their whole families,” said Salamon.

Read more: Ontario reports 3,128 new coronavirus cases, more than 1,300 people hospitalized

Salkauskis pointed out that COVID-19 is highly infectious early on, before symptoms begin, which, he said, means students may be in school spreading the virus without even knowing it.

“For two days before they get these symptoms, their viral numbers and their secretions in their breath are extremely high. Once the immunity starts attacking the virus, then you get the symptoms … so you become less infectious when you’re symptomatic,” he said.

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“The problem is when they come home, they spread it to older folks.”