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COVID-19: Hamilton public school board chair asks city’s top doc for order to keep mask mandate

Hamilton's public school board chair has requested an order from the city's medical officer of health to implement a directive keeping students and staff masked until mid-April. Global News

Just days after trustees voted against ending a mandatory mask policy, a Hamilton public school chair is asking the city’s medical officer of health to implement a provision to keep face coverings around.

In a letter to Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) chair Dawn Danko requested support to maintain mask requirements for staff and students until April 15.

“As Medical Officer of Health to the City of Hamilton, we respectfully ask you to consider the calls from the medical and science communities, and to issue a Section 22 order to maintain mask requirements for all HWDSB students and staff beyond March 21, 2022,” Danko asked.

Read more: COVID-19: Hamilton public school board opposes province, votes to keep mask mandate in place

The Health Protection and Promotion Act directive allows a medical officer of health make an order where they are of the opinion, upon reasonable and probable grounds, that a communicable disease poses an immediate risk of an outbreak.

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The HWDSB chief is hoping to counteract Ontario’s plan to end mask rules, excluding high-risk settings, along with other COVID-19 measures in schools, like cohorting, on March 21.

“By maintaining the mask requirement … we will better support student, family, and staff well-being through a time of critical change and address significant concerns of rising spread following increased social interactions and travel during March Break,” wrote Danko.

The move comes off the heels of a special board meeting on Thursday, in which a new motion called to keep mandatory masking in place for the remainder of students — those in grades 4 to 12 — until April 15, with an amendment for the mask mandate to apply to staff as well.

Global News reached out to public health the same day the letter was sent, asking whether a mask mandate for Hamilton schools was under consideration.

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The agency has yet to respond to the matter as of Tuesday afternoon.

Following last week’s HWDSB board meeting, a city spokesperson provided a statement from associate medical officer of health Dr. Ninh Tran that said public health is currently reviewing the provincial announcement about masks, saying more updates would be provided in the coming days.

Ontario’s education minister has been defending the province’s plan to end mask rules along with other COVID-19 measures in schools on March 21 despite concerns from parents, educators, health experts and political opponents about the timeline.

Stephen Lecce said Thursday that Ontario is following a handful of other Canadian jurisdictions, including Saskatchewan and Alberta, that have already lifted mask mandates.

Read more: Lecce defends end date for Ontario school mask mandate amid calls for more time

“I would submit, based on what we know today, we’re actually one of the most cautious provinces,” he said at the provincial legislature, saying Ontario is following the “clear advice” of its chief medical officer of health.

The Ontario Principals’ Council has already said it opposes the March 21 end date for masking in schools, and is urging the province to pause its timeline, saying the current date “will jeopardize the safety of students, staff and our school communities.”

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Lecce said public health units will have to consult with the province’s top doctor before deciding whether to extend school mask mandates for a longer period of time.

— with files from Lisa Polewski and the Canadian Press

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