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Ontario COVID advisory table recommends ‘permanent measures’ for classrooms ahead of school year

Click to play video: 'Masks will likely be optional for the start of the start of the school year in B.C.'
Masks will likely be optional for the start of the start of the school year in B.C.
WATCH: It's only two and a half weeks away---a new school year. And while a lot has changed surrounding the safety protocols that students and staff have dealt with for a good part of the last two school years, COVID-19 continues making the rounds. And even though one Canadian university has already re-introduced mask and vaccine mandates, so far--school and post-secondary institutions in the Okanagan are not following suit. – Aug 24, 2022

As students and teachers prepare for the 2022-2023 school year, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table (SAT) has released a new report with recommendations on how to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The brief, released on Thursday said in-person schooling is “essential for children and youth for both academic educational attainment and for the development of social, emotional growth and life skills.”

The advisory table said in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, a number of “permanent measures” should be implemented.

These permanent measures include achieving and maintaining adequate indoor air quality, implementing proper hand hygiene, conducting environmental cleaning and disinfection, ensuring students and staff stay home when they are sick and ensure they are staying up-to-date with routine and recommended immunizations.

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The advisory table said temporary infection-related measures such as masking, physical distancing, cohorting, active screening and testing “can help reduce the transmission of communicable illnesses in schools.”

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“However, some can pose additional challenges to school operations, student learning and student wellness,” the brief read. “Furthermore, some of these measures may adversely impact social connectedness, which is of vital importance for children of all ages and of heightened significance in the adolescent years.”

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The report said a “thought approach” based on “real-time local level analysis is recommended before reintroducing these temporary measures” after “careful consideration of the potential benefits and negative consequences.”

The advisory table said because schools are not isolated from communities, implementing these temporary measures “should not be done in isolation of community measures for indoor spaces.”

The table said the temporary measures “are not expected to be required” at the start of the 2022 school year.

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In a statement emailed to Global News, Ontario’s Education Minister Steven Lecce said the government’s plan is “designed to keep students in safe classrooms without disruption.”

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“Which is why we followed the expert advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, as kids return to class this September,” Lecce said.

Lecce said the “Plan to Catch Up” is focused on “helping students get back on track, learn life and job skills, and enjoy the full return of clubs, sports, and extra curriculars” that he said are “critical for student physical and mental health.”

Lecce said on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the ministry has deployed over 100K standalone HEPA filter units to classrooms and learning spaces, has enhanced cleaning and has continued access to rapid antigen tests.

“Our government remains focused on providing students with a positive, safe, and normal school experience,” he said.

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