Tag Archives: schools

Carrot or stick? U.S. governors try to get teachers back into schools

California is dangling a multibillion dollar carrot in an effort to lure its teachers back into the classroom, while Oregon’s governor on Friday said all K-12 public schools will soon be required to provide in-person leaning; marking the latest efforts by U.S. states to get schools back to normal amid the pandemic.  

Gov. Kate Brown said she is issuing an executive order that all such schools must provide universal access to in-person learning by the month’s end for students up to Grade 5 and by mid-April for older students.

The state’s coronavirus case numbers have fallen sharply in recent weeks and Oregon put teachers ahead of older residents in the line for the COVID-19 vaccine — a decision that angered many people 65 and up. As teachers get vaccinated, Brown has been under tremendous pressure from parents and local elected officials in many counties to reopen schools.

Many teachers’ unions nationally have balked at a return to in-person learning, putting them at odds with Democratic governors like Brown in some states.

In neighbouring Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee has implored educators to return to the classroom, but most students there are in online classes and the Seattle teachers’ union is defying a district plan to return special education students to schools.

In Chicago, the teachers’ union agreed last month to return to class with expanded access to vaccinations and metrics that will lead to school closures again if case numbers spike.

WATCH | Why are kids staying home longer if schools aren’t high-risk settings?

Two infectious disease physicians answer viewer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic including why many children are being kept at home if schools aren’t considered high-risk settings and why teachers haven’t been prioritized for vaccines. 7:01

‘The science is very, very clear’

Under the Oregon order, students in K-5 must have an in-person learning option by March 29. Students in Grade 6 through 12 must have one by April 19. Students who prefer to remain in online class will also have the option.

State education officials have until March 19 to revise their guidelines for in-person instruction to help districts facilitate the return, Brown said.

“The science is very, very clear: with proper safety measures in place, there is a low risk of COVID-19 transmission in school. Oregon parents can be confident about sending their children back to a classroom learning environment,” Brown said in a statement, after visiting a Portland school.

Data tallied by the state Department of Education show about 20 per cent of Oregon’s public schools are already operating with full-time on-site learning, mostly in rural areas with fewer students in eastern and central parts of the state. Another 23 per cent are offering hybrid learning and 56 per cent currently have almost all distance learning, with limited in-person instruction for students with extra needs.

Rylee Ahnen, spokesperson for the Oregon Education Association, said in a statement that teachers support returning to the classroom if it can be done safely

“We hear, understand, and share the frustration expressed by many in our communities about the uncertainty this pandemic has caused for our public education system,” he said.

California law aims to put kids in class

Meanwhile, California’s public schools can tap into $ 6.6-billion US in a plan Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Friday to try to pressure districts to reopen classrooms by the end of March.

However, after nearly a year of distance learning for most K-12 students during the coronavirus pandemic, parents in the country’s most populated state say they are frustrated and losing hope their children will see the inside of a classroom this year.

“Is this money going to be a motivator? I don’t know,” said Dan Lee, a father in San Francisco, a city that sued its own school district to reopen classrooms. “We throw money at them, we sue them, we shame them. They still haven’t moved.”

WATCH | What’s working in schools against COVID and what’s not?

Two infectious disease specialists answer questions about COVID-19 and what’s been done to keep schools safe, whether the protocols are working or if the restrictions have gone too far. 5:56

The law does not require school districts to resume in-person instruction. Instead, the state is dangling $ 2 billion US before cash-strapped school boards, offering them a share only if they start offering in-person instruction by month’s end. The rest of the money would go toward helping students catch up.

“This is the right time to safely reopen for in-person instruction,” said Newsom, who faces a likely recall election this year, fuelled by anger over his handling of the pandemic.

The new law has attracted bipartisan support and scorn in equal measure, with the Democratic governor and lawmakers saying it marked an important step forward but was far from perfect.

Teachers from some of the biggest districts have come out against it, saying schools can’t reopen until infection rates drop and enough educators have been vaccinated.

Among them is the powerful United Teachers of Los Angeles, whose members were voting Friday to reject what they called an unsafe return for the second-largest district in the country.

This week, the union slammed the reopening plan as “a recipe for propagating structural racism” by benefiting wealthier areas with lower infection rates.

“If you condition funding on the reopening of schools, that money will only go to white and wealthier and healthier school communities,” union leader Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement.

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CBC | World News

Olympic champion Kingsbury calls for urgent action to allow sport in Quebec schools

Quebec mogul king Mikael Kingsbury is calling for the return of sport in schools.

In an open letter on Wednesday to Quebec Premier François Legault, the reigning Olympic and world moguls champion says urgent action is needed amid the COVID-19 restrictions.

“I am worried about the situation of young athletes,” wrote the 28-year-old freestyle skiing star. “The health of thousands of young people is at risk.”

Inspired in part by his own experiences growing up, Kingsbury is lending his voice to the efforts of a 16-year-old high school student, Isaac Pépin, who has been urging the provincial government to show flexibility in its approach to sport in schools.

WATCH | Kingsbury writes open letter to Quebec Premier François Legault:

Days before the world championship, the moguls skier writes an open letter to Quebec Premier urging the government to get kids out of their houses. 5:49

Kingsbury told CBC Sports in an exclusive interview on Thursday that the plea is something he understands all too well.

“Having grown up skiing and playing baseball with my friends, sport is a motivator. A source of meaning,” he said, adding that sport was a big part of what helped keep him coming back to class.

For the 28-year-old native of Deux-Montagnes, Que., it’s also a question of mental as well as physical health.

“I am worried that young people are lost. That they are abandoning sport in favour of screens,” Kingsbury wrote in his letter to Legault.

This is why Kingsbury supports Pépin’s calls for the resumption of supervised sport.

‘I got dizzy’

“I stopped this week and wondered what I would do if I was this young man deprived of sport for a year in a period of a pandemic,” Kingsbury wrote.

“I got dizzy! I wouldn’t have had the capacity to survive a full year without my passion. I tell you very simply: I would be adrift. I am convinced that sports clubs, sports organizations and federations have the capacities, the means, but above all the determination necessary to protect young people and their families. Before, during and after sports practice.”

And Kingsbury feels the time to act is now.

“It’s been a year where people across Canada, but especially in Quebec, have not been able to play collective sports,” he told CBC Sports. “It’s like a year the kids are losing and will never get back again.”

WATCH | Kingsbury reflects on consecutive World Cup victories:

A day after winning his 1st event in Deer Valley, reigning Olympic and world moguls champion Mikael Kingsbury from Deux-Montagnes, Que., earns his 2nd straight victory with a win in dual moguls. 1:35

Legault said he understands the frustration, but also the importance of sport on mental health during a COVID-19 update on Wednesday.

“People who know me know that I do a lot of sports,” Legault said. “Sports is important. There’s nothing better to decrease stress levels, and it’s important for mental heath. But we all agree that certain sports, at the very least, we might get too close and bring about contagion.”

While discussions with sports federations are still ongoing, Legault will offer more of an update next week and acknowledged that “as of March 15th, everywhere in Quebec will be able to start outside school activities.”

Meanwhile, Kingsbury — who only recently returned to action in February after fracturing his T4 and T5 vertebrate in November prior to the opening of the freestyle ski season — is in Kazakhstan gearing up for freestyle skiing world championships in Almaty.

He says the passion that Pépin and fellow organizers have exhibited for sport has given him extra motivation to win. 

“[They] are only asking for one thing: to breathe new life into young people by allowing them to reconnect with their passion.”

Kingsbury won’t be able to stand with protestors at a planned rally in front of the provincial parliament on Sunday, but remains hopeful activities will open up when he returns to his home province.

“On behalf of all athletes in Quebec, amateurs and professionals, I hope that when I return home in mid-March, sport will find its rightful place.”

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CBC | Sports News

Masks now mandatory inside middle and high schools in B.C.

Masks are now mandatory for students and staff inside high schools and middle schools in British Columbia.

Non-medical grade masks must be worn in all indoor areas, the province announced Thursday, including while students are in their learning cohorts.

A statement from the B.C. Ministry of Education said masks can come off while students are at their workstation in the classroom, while they’re eating and drinking, or while a barrier — like a sheet of Plexiglas — is in place.

Wearing masks indoors is still optional for elementary students. Staff in elementary schools, however, are now also required to wear a mask.

$ 900K for rapid response teams

The province also announced the creation of six regional rapid response teams — one in each health authority — to support independent schools.

The teams, created with $ 900,000 in funding, “will continue to improve the speed of school exposure investigations so health authorities can inform school districts and families more quickly.”

The teams will conduct physical and virtual inspections to ensure health and safety guidelines are being followed consistently in K-12 schools.

If there is a serious exposure or in-school transmission, the teams will be sent out to conduct a review and make recommendations to prevent the situation from happening again.

Calls for more safety measures

Parents and teachers have repeatedly called for a number of mandates to help keep schools safer, such as mandatory masks and rapid testing, since in-person classes resumed last September.

Results released Wednesday of a survey commissioned by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation suggested more than half of teachers felt unsafe in the classroom during the pandemic and the vast majority wanted to see masks become mandatory.

The poll of 4,186 teachers found 57.8 per cent did not feel safe during in-person instruction and 86.9 wanted to see all adults wearing face masks or shields. A slightly smaller portion — 79.9 per cent — said students should wear masks as well. 

The push increased this week after news of possible exposure to a new coronavirus variant at Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge, B.C.

Officials confirmed Wednesday someone at the school was infected with a more transmissible form of the virus, but has since recovered. A total of 81 students and eight staff members who are in that person’s cohort were all tested to see if the virus had spread, and all of them tested negative.

Students are pictured on a school bus after classes end at Earl Marriott Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., on Jan. 4. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Over the fall, Henry has said data shows transmission of COVID-19 is generally low in schools

According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, 2,868 children under the age of 10 in B.C. have tested positive for the virus as of Tuesday — about four per cent of all cases in the province.

Current guidelines for schools are different than those for the rest of the public. Masks are recommended but not mandatory, and the rule for physical distancing is one metre apart instead of two.

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CBC | Health News

Ontario education minister to announce at 4 p.m. when rest of schools will reopen

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce is expected to announce on Wednesday afternoon when schools in 16 public health regions in the southern half of the province will reopen for in-person learning.

Lecce indicated on Monday that he would provide parents with “certainty” about reopening dates. The government says he will speak at 4 p.m. ET before taking questions from reporters. CBC News will carry that news confrerence live in this story.

“We want all students in all regions back to class,” Lecce said in a tweet.

Dr. David Willams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, has confirmed to Premier Doug Ford that he would finalize his advice on Wednesday about how schools still closed can reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week’s COVID-19 case counts have been unreliable due to data entry issues, though there has been a decline in the number of cases in the wake of the province’s stay-at-home order. On Wednesday, the province recorded 1,172 new infections and reported 67 more deaths linked to the virus

All elementary and secondary school students began January with online learning as part of a provincial lockdown. Since then, the provincial government has taken a staggered approach to reopening physical classrooms.

Investments needed to make schools safe, NDP says

NDP education critic Marit Stiles, MPP for Davenport, said on Tuesday that the reopening must be accompanied by public health measures to ensure the schools can remain open. She said parents, education workers and students are eagerly awaiting the announcement.

“What I’m looking for, though, is not just clarity about when kids are going to be returning to school,” Stiles told CBC News.

“What I want is the government to spend the dollars that they have been hoarding on action. Small class sizes, paid sick leave, in school testing — anything less is a recipe for future school closures.”

Stiles said the province has not spent the full $ 381 million of COVID-19 relief funds recently received from the federal government.

She said investments are needed to keep schools safe because of high daily case counts and new COVID-19 variants in circulation. Ventilation in schools should be improved and education workers should be vaccinated as front-line workers, she added.

“The success of the announcement really is going to depend on what investment and action this government is willing to take to ensure that our schools are safe when they reopen,” she added. “Anything less than that will be a failure.”

Province has said it will expand testing

On Monday, Lecce said the province plans to expand COVID-19 testing for students and that it will allow school boards to bring in student teachers to fill supply roles as more schools reopen amid the second wave of the pandemic. 

Officials said the targeted testing will be available in all public health units where students have returned to class. They said they expect that Ontario can complete up to 25,000 laboratory-processed and 25,000 on-site, rapid antigen tests per week but offered no timeline on how long it could take to get to that level.

Expansion of the testing program accompanies the injection of another $ 381 million Ottawa recently released as part of Phase 2 of the Federal Safe Return to Class Fund. A previous $ 381 million in federal funds for school reopenings came last August.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, and Education Minister Stephen Lecce, right, walk in a hallway at Father Leo J. Austin Catholic Secondary School in Whitby, Ont. in July 2020. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

On Jan. 11, students resumed in-person learning in all northern Ontario public health units. On Jan. 25, students in some areas of southern Ontario went back to in-person class. 

On Feb. 1, students in four public health units — Eastern Ontario, Middlesex-London, Ottawa and Southwestern — were able to resume in-person learning.

A total of 520,000 students were able to learn in person in Ontario as of Monday, according to the ministry.

Wednesday’s decision will affect schools in the following public health units:

  • Brant County Health Unit.
  • Chatham-Kent Public Health.
  • City of Hamilton Public Health Services.
  • Durham Region Health Department.
  • Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.
  • Halton Region Public Health.
  • Huron Perth Public Health.
  • Lambton Public Health.
  • Niagara Region Public Health.
  • Peel Region Public Health.
  • Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services.
  • Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit.
  • Toronto Public Health.
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.
  • Windsor-Essex County Health.
  • York Region Public Health.

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CBC | Health News

Parents welcome asymptomatic COVID-19 tests in schools, even if news isn’t always good

It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster weekend for Toronto father Yaser Nadaf, after Ontario’s new asymptomatic testing for schools in COVID-19 hot spots turned up 19 new positive cases at his children’s school.

While his daughter and her Grade 3 class were cleared to return to school on Monday, his son’s Grade 2 class must self-isolate for 14 days, even though the youngster himself was among those who tested negative.

The weekend’s testing blitz at Thorncliffe Park Public School — the first Toronto District School Board (TDSB) location selected for the voluntary testing pilot announced last week — saw 14 classes affected and sent home for two weeks. However, the rest of the school will remain open, according to direction from Toronto Public Health.

Nadaf is rolling with it, saying he believes teachers and staff have been trying their best to maintain health and safety precautions and protocols.

“What can we do? This is going on everywhere in the world,” he said. “They try their best, but at the same time they cannot prevent it completely.”

Testing asymptomatic students and staff is currently being offered at designated schools in Toronto, Peel and York regions and Ottawa — four Ontario regions with a high number of active COVID-19 cases.

Thorncliffe Park Public School was the first Toronto District School Board location selected to participate in a new voluntary asymptomatic testing program at schools in four COVID hot spots in Ontario. The testing found 19 positive cases, and 14 classes were sent home to self-isolate. (CBC)

The goal is to improve tracking of the coronavirus and prevent transmission within schools, as well as to inform future public health decisions. While parents and health experts seem to be applauding the pilot, some are also highlighting shortcomings in how it’s being rolled out.

Over the weekend, testing also began in Ottawa at Manordale Public School, part of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Amber Mammoletti, an occasional teacher working at two schools this fall, dropped by on Sunday to be tested with her son, Flynn.

“I think there’s people walking around not realizing they have it — no symptoms — so it’s just better to keep everyone safe: Get tested if you can and see what happens,” she said.

WATCH | How testing helped Cornell University become a model of COVID-19 prevention:

At the start of the school year, Cornell University implemented a strategy of regular testing and robust contact tracing on campus. The plan was expensive, but it’s prevented any major COVID-19 outbreaks at the New York institution. 8:19

School boards are working with local public health authorities to determine which schools to target over the next four weeks, but the expectation is that new positives will undoubtedly emerge, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said.

“The 19 cases we’ve learned about over the weekend [at Thorncliffe Park PS] as a result of the testing is a concern, but it’s not unexpected,” he said Monday.

“While this information is concerning, it really is the information that our public health officials need to know, because it gives them a better snapshot of how many of those asymptomatic people are positive cases of COVID.”

Despite the batch of positive cases arising from this first weekend, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce reiterated his assertion that “99.9 per cent of Ontario students are COVID-free” during a press briefing on Monday afternoon.

Acknowledging that “we still have work to do” in tracking COVID-19 cases in communities, he characterized the new testing initiative as an extension of the existing safety measures his ministry had announced.

“The fact that hundreds of children, students and staff have gotten tested [at Thorncliffe Park PS] in conjunction with the local public health unit I think underscores that the plan in place is … working hard to mitigate any further spread: identifying COVID cases, isolating them or moving them from the school, so we don’t have spreaders within the school.” 

‘Canaries in the coal mine’

A targeted campaign of testing in schools — which in most neighbourhoods are considered trusted, known places — is a welcome tool that adds to the barometer of what’s happening in the communities they’re located in, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“Parents who may not be encouraged to go get tested in their local communities will readily take their kids to the school, which is a place they know,” he said.

“Things like this are going to be canaries in the coal mine. You kind of get a better sense of what’s happening in the community by doing these local testing strategies.”

Manordale Public School in Ottawa was also among the schools selected for the pilot project. Students and staff lined up on Sunday for testing. (CBC)

He added the caveat, however, that the type of test being used will likely cause more chaos for families and schools.

For the pilot, Ontario is using PCR testing, which detects the genetic material of a virus. Although considered the gold standard, it’s also so sensitive it would “pick up kids who are infectious, as well as kids who were infectious two, four, six weeks ago,” Chagla said.

He suggested that they could have chosen rapid antigen tests, which flag active infections by identifying proteins on the surface of infectious virus particles.

The rapid antigen tests may offer a more precise picture “of who is really a threat to the community versus who had COVID six weeks ago, where they’re not really a threat,” Chagla said.

WATCH | Nova Scotia offers rapid COVID-19 tests in Halifax for asymptomatic cases:

Health officials in Nova Scotia offered rapid COVID-19 testing in Halifax to reduce the virus’s spread in the province by catching asymptomatic cases. 2:01

Though Toronto parent Jessica Lyons welcomes the introduction of asymptomatic testing, she said it comes months late and should be offered more widely.

“This is desperately needed,” said the mother of two school-aged children and an organizer with the Ontario Parent Action Network.

“Much more testing in schools — to make it accessible, to make it easy for parents and families and students to do — is really essential. So we support this pilot, obviously, but we think that it should have come … weeks and weeks ago, and it needs to be expanded.”

PCR testing being used in the pilot project is considered the gold standard, but it’s also so sensitive it would ‘pick up kids who are infectious, as well as kids who were infectious two, four, six weeks ago,’ said Dr. Zain Chagla. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Back in Thorncliffe Park, among the Toronto communities hardest hit by COVID-19 this year, parents in the neighbourhood expressed concern about the new positive cases found through the testing initiative. But they’re also adamant about one thing: their schools staying open.

Remote learning last spring was “really hard for kids. We’ve seen the mental stress on our child and other kids,” said Osamah Aldhad, father of a second grader who he said really missed being at school.

“When we were kids, you know, we used to run away from school,” Aldhad noted.

“Now they’re actually really wanting to go to school, which is really important for them.”

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CBC | Health News

How businesses and schools are dealing with airborne COVID-19 and preparing for a winter indoors

On a sunny Friday in October, the 9Round fitness club in midtown Toronto was as busy as it could be, according to local rules.

Masked clients kicked, punched and jabbed at nine individual boxing-style workout stations, each spaced apart by more than 2 metres. The stations were wiped down with disinfectant after each use. Guests who arrived at the open door were asked to wait outside until a station opened up and an employee was able to screen them for COVID-19.

“Where I’m coming from, as a business owner, it’s in our best interest to do everything we can,” said Brian Castillo, who heads up the gym. “We have to bet our livelihoods on the precautions that we take to ensure that we can operate.”

It’s a complicated dance, and one made more so by concerns that COVID-19 could spread more easily indoors, especially in places where people might be singing, shouting or exercising.

Scientists initially believed the virus spreads primarily through heavy droplets from a sneeze or a cough, which quickly fall to the ground, but newer research shows airborne transmission also exists.

Bioaerosols researcher Caroline Duchaine of Université Laval talks about the importance of good building ventilation to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 0:35

After the interview with Castillo, most of Toronto’s fitness centres were closed as the city returned to Ontario’s Stage 2 pandemic regulations. Castillo’s club is a provincial sports organization training facility, and as a result it has remained open in a limited way under the organization’s guidance.

  • THE NATIONAL | Watch the feature about concerns over indoor air quality, Sunday Nov. 8 on The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. local time on your CBC television station. You can also catch The National online on CBC Gem.

Concerns about airborne transmission of COVID-19 have been on Castillo’s mind for months. As studies emerged showing how the virus could spread in poorly ventilated spaces, Castillo upgraded his HVAC system and had a UVA filter added to help clean the air inside the gym. He said the changes cost him several hundred dollars.

Exactly how well such measures help protect against COVID-19 transmission is still unknown. But Castillo says he must make the effort.

“I’d rather go above and beyond and ensure that we’re doing the appropriate things, than [feel] overconfident [and] maybe slacking a bit,” he said.

According to bioaerosols researcher Caroline Duchaine of Université Laval, in indoor spaces, “ventilation has to be addressed as a major part of the infection control [measures].”

Caroline Duchaine, who studies bioaerosols at the Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec, said viral particles can ‘accumulate in the surrounding environment of the infected person’ in poorly ventilated spaces and could potentially infect someone else. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Duchaine and her team in Quebec City have taken air samples in the hospital rooms of COVID-19 patients in order to study how the coronavirus spreads in the air. In poorly ventilated spaces, Duchaine said, viral particles can “accumulate in the surrounding environment of the infected person” and could potentially infect someone else, even beyond a distance of 2 metres.

She said there is “more and more evidence that says that the major outbreaks and the super-spreading events that happened so far happened indoors in poorly ventilated spaces.”

Duchaine was part of an international group of 239 scientists who wrote to the World Health Organization (WHO) in July, urging the agency to recognize that the virus can spread through the air. Since then, the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have acknowledged that airborne transmission of COVID-19 is possible.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) followed suit this week, saying COVID-19 spreads through large droplets as well as “smaller droplets, sometimes called aerosols, which linger in the air under some circumstances.”

Even before the update, PHAC’s official guidelines encouraged people to avoid poorly ventilated environments.

Schools, where interactions inside enclosed spaces are necessary, have spent months trying to sort out indoor air quality issues.

St. Michael’s College School, a boys’ private school in Toronto, has taken precautions such as masks, screening measures, physical distancing, and new hand washing stations. It has also updated its ventilation system.

St. Michael’s College School principal James McKinnon outlines why his institution has invested in HEPA filters, as well as ultraviolet light units for every classroom and workspace in the building, to address concerns around COVID-19. 0:22

“We’ve added units that are HEPA filters, as well as ultraviolet light units that have been added to every classroom and workspace in the building,” said principal James McKinnon.

“My understanding of the units is that there’s a 99 per cent kill rate for bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19. So the standard is quite high,” he added.

McKinnon didn’t provide a total cost for the upgrade, but said the measures were necessary in today’s environment.

“We know the value of trying to keep schools open. So, we’ll do what we can to make that happen,” he said.

The Toronto Public School Board was given $ 6.9 million by the province to improve air quality in its schools this year. For some older facilities without mechanical ventilation systems that could be updated, the board has looked to air purification systems, like HEPA filters, as a supplement.

Donated air purification units were delivered to older public schools in Toronto on Oct. 13 to help improve classroom air quality. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

In October, hundreds of air purifying units were donated to the board and distributed to 37 older schools in communities that are most at risk of COVID-19 spread.

Canada’s updated public health guidelines suggest people, “maximize ventilation by ensuring that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are in good working order.”

HVAC consultant Matt MacAvelia, of Advantage Airtech in Pickering, Ont., said there is a range of actions building managers can consider taking to improve their indoor air quality, from small upgrades that don’t cost much, to full overhauls that can cost thousands of dollars.

The most cost-effective plan, he said, is to look at existing systems and see “if you can do something there to improve what you already have.”

Matt MacAvelia of Advantage Airtech in Pickering, Ont., said improving air quality in a building can range from small upgrades that don’t cost much, to full overhauls that can cost thousands of dollars. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Indoor air quality, he said, was an issue on the “back burner” pre-pandemic, with more people concerned about the efficiency and cost effectiveness of their systems. But “with everything going on, I do kind of feel like the tide may be changing,” he said.

He added that he has been contacted by a lot of facilities — from condos, to schools, to a call centre — looking for more information about how to best update their HVAC systems in light of COVID-19. Though there is a lot of interest, MacAvelia said businesses he has spoken to are sometimes hesitant to act on big overhauls without any official guidance from a governing body.

“We need some clarity there, because that’s going to help people manage their buildings properly.”

In the meantime, according to Duchaine, there is a simple solution for buildings with poorer ventilation that can’t easily make upgrades. Similar to the latest advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada, she suggests building managers consider cracking open some windows — even in winter, when possible.

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CBC | Health News

Pandemic-rattled Canadians still cautious about everything from schools to second lockdowns, polls say

Most Canadians are still exceedingly cautious when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic — in favour of mandatory mask laws, concerned about their personal susceptibility to the virus, willing to lock the country down again if cases spike and leaning toward a mix of in-class and at-home learning for children in the fall.

This might come as a surprise to many.

New cases of COVID-19 have fallen significantly in Canada, though there has been a small uptick in recent days in some parts of the country. With the virus raging unchecked in the United States, governments on this side of the border have been loosening restrictions. In Ontario, most of the province entered Stage 3 today, which allows most businesses to re-open with health measures in place.

Many have expressed alarm over crowded parks and beaches. An outbreak in cases related to bars in Quebec has resulted in ‘last call’ being moved up earlier to midnight, and a prohibition on dancing.

It might give the impression that Canadians are letting their guards down. But polls don’t suggest that’s the case.

Both Léger (in a poll for the Association for Canadian Studies) and the Angus Reid Institute have found that 59 per cent of Canadians reported being concerned about or afraid of personally contracting COVID-19. That’s the highest level since April, when Canada was at the peak of its first wave.

Reports of people unwilling to wear masks are widespread — but they represent a minority view. Léger found that two-thirds of Canadians think governments should make wearing masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces. Cities like Ottawa and Toronto already have imposed such mask rules, and masks become mandatory in indoor public spaces throughout Quebec on Saturday.

Despite concerns expressed by some business groups about their impact on the local economy, an Ipsos/Global News poll found that 79 per cent of Canadians strongly or somewhat support local municipalities imposing mandatory mask-wearing rules. According to an Abacus Data poll, 86 per cent of respondents would support — or at least “go along with” — mandatory mask orders.

Support for new lockdown in a second wave

With new cases surging in places like the United States, Brazil and India — and as other countries, such as Israel, are experiencing second waves of the virus that are bigger than the first ones — polls show the vast majority of Canadians expect to see a second wave in this country in the future.

Such a second wave could hit the Canadian economy very hard due to people staying home and spending less — even if governments don’t impose a second lockdown.

This has led to calls for governments to avoid imposing a second lockdown. Last week, a number of health experts signed an open letter calling on the federal and provincial governments to take a “balanced response” to fighting the pandemic, while the Business Council of Canada put out a statement after the federal government’s recent fiscal update making the case that “Canadians simply cannot afford another shutdown.”

A second set of lockdowns could be a crippling blow to the economy, but polls suggest Canadians would support one if there is a big spike of new cases of COVID-19 in Canada. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press)

That doesn’t mean Canadians aren’t willing to live through another one, however. Two recent surveys show wide support for the re-imposition of a lockdown if cases spike again.

A Nanos Research/CTV News survey found that 70 per cent of Canadians support, or somewhat support, requiring non-essential businesses to close again if there’s a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Ipsos put support for the idea even higher than that — at 83 per cent.

Polls suggest Ontarians back a hybrid approach to classes

But the impact of a second wave in the fall could fall especially hard on schools across the country, most of which have been shuttered since the spring. Parents have been struggling to juggle both work and child care. Women in particular have been hit harder by the economic effects of the downturn and have been taking on the lion’s share of child care responsibilities.

Disrupting the school year also has a significant impact on the education and mental health of children.

It all explains the growing number of calls for provinces like Ontario to have a plan for a full-time return to classes in the fall — not only from parents and educators but from some economists and health experts as well.

The Toronto District School Board said that anything but a full return to classes in the fall “will force parents to choose between educating their children and their own employment.

However, two recent polls suggest views in Ontario are not so cut-and-dried.

Last month, the Ontario government put forward three scenarios for a return to classes in the fall: virtual learning only, in-class learning only or a mix of the two. A hybrid system would still impose significant child care burdens on parents and limit their ability to either return to their workplaces or to work remotely.

A full return to classes in the fall is an important factor in getting people back to work, but polls suggest most parents in Ontario support a mix of both in-class and online learning. (Ryan Remiorz / Canadian Press)

But a poll conducted by Nanos Research at the end of June and commissioned by the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association found that — despite 86 per cent of Ontarians expressing concerns about students’ mental health — just 52 per cent were comfortable or somewhat comfortable with a return to school in September. Men were more comfortable with the idea than women.

The poll found 72 per cent of respondents with two or more children in public school supported or somewhat supported a mixed model of education delivery; that figure increased to 76 per cent among parents with just one child in public school. On this question, there was no significant difference between the genders.

A survey by Campaign Research for the Toronto Star corroborated these findings. Conducted last week, the poll found 53 per cent of Ontario parents support the hybrid model, with 11 per cent supporting online-only. Just 23 per cent supported in-class-only learning.

It all serves to show how millions of Canadians are experiencing the pandemic in millions of different ways, making their individual assessments of the risks posed by COVID-19.

For many Canadians, the self-isolation and the changes to our way of life have been difficult to handle — but a majority remain concerned about the disease, support wearing masks in public spaces and are going about their daily lives with caution. Too many Canadians are struggling with child care and paying the bills. But most would still re-impose another shutdown if it means keeping COVID-19 at bay.

It poses a challenge to governments and policy-makers who have to decide how to balance the concerns of a worried majority with the need to help those who need help the most — a challenge that will get all the more complicated if Canada does not avoid a second wave.

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With uptick in COVID-19 cases, Quebec could be forced to choose between schools and bars

When Premier François Legault announced Monday that masks will soon be mandatory across Quebec, he also confirmed that the province is witnessing a slight increase in the number of reported cases of COVID-19. 

After having dropped almost steadily since mid-May, the five-day rolling average of new cases began to rise in late June. Quebec is now registering about 100 new cases per day. 

While that’s far from the peak of around 1,000 new cases per day the province saw two months ago, public health officials are nevertheless concerned. 

At Monday’s news conference in Montreal, Legault pointed out that unlike at the height of the first wave, the new cases are turning up almost entirely in the general population, as opposed to in long-term care homes. 

The increase has coincided with the reopening of bars and nightclubs in the Montreal area. Health officials in the city have linked nine bars to about thirty cases.

On Monday, Premier François Legault announced that masks will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces across Quebec, beginning July 18. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In a buzzkill worse than Sunday morning, the officials are now asking everyone who’s been to a Montreal bar in the past month to get tested.

With the number of new cases headed in the wrong direction, Legault’s announcement that, starting Saturday, masks will be mandatory in enclosed public spaces — like stores, bars and restaurants — came as little surprise. 

The reaction from infectious disease specialists, who’ve been calling for the measure for weeks, was closer to relief.

“Better late than never,” said Dr. Karl Weiss, who heads the infectious diseases department at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital.   

Bars are risky business

That new provincewide mask rule (Montreal already announced its own) is part of a series of restrictions Quebec has been forced to introduce since it began lifting the lockdown.

Last week, it added more rules for bars to follow if they want to stay open, including an earlier last call and serving even fewer clients at a time.  

Bar owners, obviously, aren’t thrilled. They’re only just getting used to being open again, and already the government is adding burdens to their business.

But the science is against them.

“Bars are enclosed spaces, and that’s where the risk of transmission is highest,” said Benoît Mâsse, an epidemiologist at the Université de Montréal.

“[Drinking in a bar] is a type of activity that is riskiest in terms of propagating the virus.”

Which raises the question of why bars and nightclubs were allowed to reopen in the first place, especially given Montreal has been the Canadian epicentre of the pandemic.


There are widespread concerns — not just in Quebec but across North America — that elected officials have jeopardized the return of children to classrooms this fall by seeking to salvage a nightlife in the summer.

On social media, this concern has been given the pithy hashtag #schoolsbeforebars.

If the current trend continues, pressure will mount quickly on Legault to sacrifice the livelihoods of some business owners to spare a generation of young minds further disruption. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The argument, stated roughly, is that as major drivers of transmission, bars, nightclubs and parties could cause a big enough spike in COVID-19 cases to warrant keeping schools closed even longer.

Doing so would entail significant social costs that must be considered alongside the loss of revenues to bar owners. 

In a widely read op-ed published in the Globe and Mail this month, gender equality consultant Lauren Dobson-Hughes noted it is women and lower-income children who will likely bear the burden if schools are forced to stay closed. 

“The lack of affordable child care, especially for low-income and racialized families, was already unsustainable,” she wrote. 

“It is now a crisis for many. We must make the safe return to school a political and national priority.”

In Quebec, only elementary school children outside the greater Montreal area were able to return to classrooms this spring.

Summer day camps, moreover, have had to reduce their offerings because of staffing shortages and space constraints, further complicating child care for parents.

WATCH | 2 pandemics tell the story of the role women play in times of crisis:

Women played an important role during the 1918 influenza pandemic. What can be learned from a century ago as we face a pandemic that hits women harder in Canada? 4:27

As it stands, Quebec’s plan is to have children return to classrooms in the fall, though with several restrictions. 

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, for instance, has warned that students in Grades 10 and 11 may have to do some of their schooling online if the public health situation worsens. 

The recent uptick in cases has reinforced just how delicate the situation is in Quebec, and in Montreal in particular.

If the current trend continues, pressure will mount quickly on Legault to sacrifice the livelihoods of some business owners in order to protect not only a generation of young minds, but the province’s hard-won gains for gender equality as well.

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Trump wants schools reopened. He’s getting rare support from virus experts

Donald Trump’s call to reopen schools is winning rare qualified support from a group that’s included some of the U.S. president’s harshest critics: virus experts.

Epidemiologists who have castigated the president’s pandemic handling agree with him that students should be in classrooms this fall.

Several interviewed by CBC News said the evidence favours a safe return to school, though they added caveats about how to do it and about the need to plan it carefully.

They offered that advice while stressing that the president otherwise has little credibility when speaking about COVID-19, which he has repeatedly downplayed, made untrue claims about and promoted unproven treatments for.

On this, they say, he’s got a point.

The debate is of increasingly urgent relevance to parents across the continent, as policy-makers in U.S. states and Canadian provinces weigh different approaches for reopening classrooms in several weeks.

“I’m very, very, very, very, very non-pro-Trump. But this is an issue — it should not be a political thing. It should be based on the science,” said Dr. Michael Silverman, chief of infectious diseases at the Health Sciences Centre in London, Ont.

“And the science says the kids should be going back to school,” said Silverman, who has completed a paper on the topic, now undergoing peer review.

“There is a consensus among the vast majority of us [in this field] that the schools need to open. And they need to open soon.”

The message was similar from two other epidemiologists interviewed by CBC News, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“In general, I still wouldn’t listen to the president on anything having to do with the coronavirus,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

“It just happens to be a coincidence that he might have said something that’s backed by epidemiological data in this case.” 

Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, cautioned that areas with serious outbreaks should delay a return, but she said: “Schools should reopen in the fall. I think it’s a priority.”

Trump’s election message

Even as case totals soar across the southern U.S., Trump seems to be keen to campaign for this November’s election on the idea that life is returning to normal.

He has put schools at the centre of that narrative — this week he tweeted repeatedly and held different White House events about reopening.

“The moms want it. The dads want it. The kids want it. It’s time to do it,” Trump said at a White House event on the topic.

“We’re very much going to put pressure on governors — and everybody else — to open schools.”

In a tweet that puzzled public health experts, Trump has even pressured the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be more gung-ho, and he blasted the agency.

The CDC’s recommendations currently include a nine-page checklist for schools on everything from cleaning to distancing practices. 

It also offers guidelines for different regional scenarios, saying places with some virus spread should space desks two metres apart and cancel field trips, while places with more severe spread may want to consider shuttering schools again.

The CDC suggests mask-wearing when feasible and is releasing additional guidelines in a few days.

U.S. federal immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week that different parts of the country might use different approaches based on their current caseloads. 

But Fauci’s broad message was that the overall damage to children being outside the classroom is outweighing the benefits: “We should try as best as possible to get the children back to school and the schools open.” 

How to reduce risks

Adalja mentioned four things schools can do to reduce the risks of reopening schools: 

  • Have a plan for what to do if cases occur.
  • Allow at-risk school employees with pre-existing medical conditions to work in isolation.
  • Create safer spaces: Open windows and hold classes outdoors when possible; separate desks to the greatest extent possible; and try not to shuffle children between classes. (Tuite suggested using churches or universities to add extra class space.)
  • Make it voluntary: If a family wants children to study at home, let them.

Policy-makers in the U.S. and Canada are examining different approaches for reopening classrooms in several weeks. But many seem to agree that the overall damage to children being outside the classroom is outweighing the benefits. (Jonathon Hayward/The Canadian Press)

There is some disagreement among experts about what to do in the event of a regional spike in cases — a current problem in southern U.S. states.

Adalja said he favours a more aggressive reopening. 

He said he’d be very hesitant to close schools again, even in harder-hit areas. “I was never a major proponent of closing schools because I didn’t think there was strong data to support it.” 

The only reason authorities closed schools this spring, Adalja said, was fear that the virus would act like influenza — dangerous to children and easily spread by them.

But COVID-19 is the opposite, he said. 

Children’s ‘puzzling’ response to COVID-19

There’s no complete consensus yet on children’s low risk of spreading the coronavirus. But Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said Wednesday that officials are weighing the evidence.

“From the science, what we know is that certainly young people, children, are less likely to have more severe consequences if they do get infected with the virus,” he said.

“It also appears that in terms of transmission, young children — at least in some of the studies I’ve seen — do not appear to be as efficient or effective in terms of transmitting the virus to others..”

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, pictured on June 25, said Wednesday that officials are weighing the evidence on children’s risk of spreading the coronavirus. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Njoo said that aspect was “at the heart of the debate.” In terms of managing risk, “it is a bit of a social experiment,” he said. 

Adalja said children rarely spread, and are rarely seriously harmed by, COVID-19, based on international evidence from daycares used by the children of essential workers in the U.S.; studies in Taiwan, Finland, Denmark and elsewhere; and states that reopened schools.

Silverman said it’s equally true of Canadian provinces, some of which reopened classrooms in the spring, with flexible rules and regional exceptions.

He said Canada has had more than 8,000 adult deaths and no child deaths from COVID-19.  There is ample evidence that children don’t easily spread the virus, he said.

“We have to educate the public…. Understandably the public is very frightened [about reopening schools],” Silverman said.

“[But] the rationale for continuing to keep kids out of school is misguided. More than that, it’s harmful…. Millions of children are being kept out of school to prevent something extremely rare. We’re doing harm to millions of children.”

Researchers at Brown University in Providence, R.I., attempted to estimate the academic impact of closing U.S. schools this past spring. They published a working paper that said students would lose between 32 and 73 per cent of the likely learning gains in math and reading they would normally have achieved in the 2019-20 school year.

The hardest impact would be on poorer and at-risk students, they said.

Different opinions about what to do in places with spikes

As for places like the U.S. South, with a surge in cases, Silverman said he might take a middle-of-the-road approach. For example, he said, elementary schools might stay mostly open, while high schools could mostly shift back to online learning.

Tuite said she would take a slower approach in areas like the southern U.S. 

“I would suggest deferring [reopening],” she said. 

Graphs showing 3-day moving averages of new cases across the U.S. The redder the background, the bigger the upward trend; the greener the background, the bigger the downward trend. (Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center)

Tuite provided a rule of thumb to help authorities decide whether to shut down: Are officials able to contact trace the individuals spreading an outbreak? 

She said that’s more useful than setting a number of cases as your benchmark for opening or closing, because raw numbers can be deceiving. 

For instance, 10 new cases found randomly in a community is greater cause for alarm than 10 cases traced to one single event, Tuite said.

“[But if tracing is] not happening, I don’t think you could safely reopen schools,” she said.

Teachers’ concerns

Teachers’ unions are expressing concern about safety.

The largest U.S. teachers’ union said the country hasn’t properly funded efforts to supply protective gear and modify classrooms. 

Other education unions in the U.S. also aren’t happy.

In Canada, Ontario’s largest teachers’ federation sent the provincial government a 37-page document with requests, including the need to respect collective agreement rules on workload and safety issues.

Ontario high school and Catholic teachers’ groups have sent similar requests and said the provincial government has not consulted meaningfully. 

Different provinces are planning different approaches this fall.

Teachers’ unions say they worry they won’t get the safety equipment they need when schools reopen. Here, students in Taiwan in March sit at desks equipped with yellow dividers. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan say they’re preparing for a return to near-normal conditions for most age groups. B.C. and New Brunswick envision a hybrid, partial-normal return. Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario say they’re preparing for three scenarios. Ontario and P.E.I. have asked school boards to map out those different scenarios.

Tuite said policy-makers are right to prepare for different scenarios — including for the need to shut down again.

“It’s not going to be a typical school year,” Tuite said. “You’re probably going to have interruptions.”

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B.C. teachers raise alarm about going back to classes after COVID-19 cases in Quebec schools

As students from across British Columbia head back to class on a voluntary basis today, some teachers say their employer is giving them little choice but to return to work in what they call an unsafe environment. 

This comes after at least 41 staff and students in Quebec tested positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks after elementary schools outside the Montreal area reopened.

“I find it really unfortunate and very offensive, actually, because I think parents have the right to know [that] we can’t ensure that your kids are going to be socially distant all day in a classroom,” said one teacher from the North Vancouver School District.

CBC News has agreed not to name the teacher as she fears speaking out could cost her her job.

She has mapped out her class with measuring tape and says there’s not enough space for kids socially distance in it. Other than directional tape on the floor, she says, there’s no other means to help kids keep a safe distance.

Staggered schedules

The North Vancouver School District told CBC News that while the directive to stay two metres apart should be followed, “it may not be feasible and is not expected at all times in the school setting.”

The district added that classroom composition has been arranged “in thoughtful ways” with staggered schedules to reduce density with more time outside.

B.C.’s Ministry of Education said limits on the number of children “should help kids social distance.” For kindergarten to Grade 5, up to 50 per cent of students are allowed in the school at once. In higher grades, the limit is just 20 per cent.

The ministry added that some classrooms will need to be amalgamated to make up for some teachers not returning. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has dismissed concerns about schools reopening. “We know how to deal with this, we know that it is not easily spread, and we know we can prevent it by putting in place the measures that we have in our schools.”  

Teachers seeking accommodations

Teachers who do not feel safe returning say they feel there’s little choice. 

The North Vancouver teacher says her employer is providing little accommodation even for those who are immune-compromised. That means instead of being able to work from home, teachers who feel unsafe to go back or who cannot access childcare, in some cases must go on unpaid leave or use sick days. 

Nicole Jarvis, a teacher at the École Salish Secondary School thinks reopening is a good idea but doesn’t think everyone should be forced to return to the workplace.

“I am deeply hoping that colleagues who have requested work from home accommodations will be granted so,” Jarvis said.

It’s something the B.C. Teachers Federation also has concerns about.

“It’s been a bit of a struggle, because the reasons why people are seeking accommodations [are] different under a pandemic, including child care being closed because because of COVID-19,” said Terri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation.

Nicole Jarvis is a teacher at the École Salish Secondary School. She personally feels excited to return to class but hopes teachers who do not feel it is safe won’t be forced to return. (Nicole Jarvis )

Mooring added that the problem of teachers being granted accommodation in a timely manner is that there is a much larger number of teachers seeking it in a very short time period. 

But she said that “it is incumbent upon the employer to provide accommodations to members with appropriate medical information from their doctor to the point of undue hardship.” 

B.C. School Trustees Association president Stephanie Higginson says not every person who doesn’t want to return to work will be accommodated.

“It’s just not possible, nor would it be the responsible thing to do,” said Higginson.

She stresses that public health officials and scientists have deemed B.C. classes safe to return to. 

No budget increase

The Ministry of Education said there will be no budget increases to support teachers or custodians for the June reopening, however according to Higginson and Mooring, districts are getting creative.

According to Mooring, since the pandemic hit and schools closed, some now have a surplus after needing fewer supply teachers and fewer bus drivers, for example. She says some of that surplus can be used for additional custodians and cleaning supplies.

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring says there is a large number of teachers seeking accommodation in a short time period. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Other districts have moved custodial schedules.  

“We’ve switched the shifts so our night-time cleaning staff is doing the cleaning in the day and then we’ll have more of a skeleton crew on at night,” said Jarvis, who is also a union representative with local 36 of the BCTF.

She also added that teachers can ask the custodians for cleaning supplies if they want to do extra cleaning in high-traffic areas. 

Teachers won’t be provided with personal protective equipment, according to their employer, but they are able to bring their own, saying provincial health guidelines say that hand washing and surface cleaning are more effective at combating the virus.

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