COVID-19 school closures spark concern for unvaccinated teachers
LONDON, ONT. -- With schools in our region shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks, some officials are asking the province to move teachers higher up on the vaccine priority list.
In Woodstock, Ont., two schools are temporarily closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
On March 11, following the identification of two student cases and three teacher cases, Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) declared an outbreak at St. Michael’s Catholic School.
“The teachers taught in every classroom in the school, which resulted in all students being deemed high risk. Due to the precautions required to contain the spread of potential variants of concern (VOC), this resulted in all families needing to self-isolate along with the students,” SWPH said in a statement to CTV News London.
Due to the magnitude, the London District Catholic School Board made the decision to close the school down until March 25.
At St. Patrick’s Catholic School, an outbreak was declared on March 15 by SWPH.
There were eight cases within the school that resulted in five classes and several buses self-isolating.
The school is closed for at least two weeks.
Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) Thames Valley President Craig Smith says any possible exposure of teachers to COVID-19 - within schools or by community transmission - will take teachers out of the classroom and into quarantine.
This can lead to staffing issues and possible future closures to schools across the region, he adds.
“If they are given directions from the health unit to isolate, that means they are not in school. That's somewhere between 10 to 14 days, with direction to have a test. Teachers are just not available. So the school becomes unsafe for both teachers and students because it just cant function and there isn’t the level of supervision needed to open safely.”
According to the Ministry of Education, as of March 19 there have been just over 11,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Ontario schools.
NDP MP for London West, Peggy Sattler, says teachers should have been vaccinated early.
"We need to get people vaccinated as soon as possible, teachers of course are at risk. Teachers are in school everyday often working with students with special learning needs who cannot wear masks, young children who struggle to keep masks on all day, we need to get needles in arms as soon as possible.”
Middlesex-London Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie says more essential workers will be vaccinated by summer of 2021.
“It looks like the essential workers category is being expanded by the province to be anyone who cannot work from home, and that those groups will be towards the end of phase two. We don’t have exact timing but probably by June give or take a month.”
In the meantime, SWPH is thanking the community for its vigilance.
“Until more of us are vaccinated we must continue to follow public health guidelines designed to stop the spread of COVID-19. We thank students, families, staff and our colleagues at the London District Catholic School Board for their cooperation and collaboration over the past couple of weeks. We recognize this has been a stressful and disruptive time for everyone involved with these two school communities.”