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COVID-19: Ontario’s top doc suggests parts of Niagara’s back to school plan not in line with province

Ontario's medical officer of health has accused Niagara Region's acting medical officer of not doing proper consultation prior to releasing guidelines for a student back to school plan. Global News / file

Ontario’s chief medical officer is accusing Niagara Region’s acting medical officer of health of not taking on proper consultation in formulating a back to school plan amid the current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter, Dr. Kieran Moore suggested Dr. Mustafa Hirji’s approach to the return of in-person learning and child care failed to properly vet measures with Public Health Ontario, the Ministry of Education, and two other provincial outlets.

Moore targeted three local public health guidelines — CO2 levels in classrooms, dismissal of classroom cohorts and medical exemptions for masks — in his correspondence with Hirji dated Jan. 15.

Read more: Ontario to begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions on Jan. 31

“The memos describe the severity of illness and high-risk from the Omicron variant without providing any evidence to support this claim and contrary to the best evidence available of the reduced risk on morbidity and mortality in the pediatric population,” Moore wrote.

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He went on to question why the AMOH would state that only 25 per cent of youth acquire COVID infections while at school versus a 75-per cent risk in the community.

“This statement would indicate schools are significantly a safer location for children and youth to be,” said Moore.

“Yet you are placing children and youth in the position to be at home in the community more often than schools and without placing any additional measures to restrict community transmission.”

CO2 monitoring is one initiative in contention as Hirji asked for schools to monitor weekly with a specific reading. Moore suggested there was no correlation between that and viral transmission in any known research and that recent HVAC upgrades by the province were not acknowledged.

Moore also questioned the potential dismissal of class cohorts for seven days amid a case management situation which is in opposition to the province recommendation of isolation of affected populations.

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Mandatory medical notes for those unable to wear a mask was also a grievance which Moore insinuated would be paid-out-of-pocket by families affecting those of “lower socioeconomic status.”

In a statement, Hirji told Global News he “appreciated the feedback” but assured the chief Niagara public health has built a “solid foundation” set by provincial guidelines with additions that reflect “local context” and “patterns of spread” in schools.

“We have adapted some of the details of how our recommended measures will be implemented in consideration of the easing workload on our school boards,” Hirji wrote.

Read more: Here’s a look at Ontario’s planned timeline to lift COVID-19 restrictions

“But we’ll be proceeding with these measures in order to give children, teachers, and other school staff additional protection as we successfully resume in-person schooling.”

During the province’s latest COVID update, Moore said he’s been in contact with Niagara public health since the letter and continues a dialogue around “their different approach.”

He said he was also seeking “clarity” from Hirji on school policies as they relate with teachers in a workplace.

“Jurisdictionally, public health positions don’t typically get involved in workplaces, that’s more ministry of labour,” Moore said.

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