The Ontario government announced Wednesday that students will not return to in-person learning in schools until September, citing the "fast-growing B.1.617.2 variant."
"At a time when our top priority is putting the third wave behind us so that we can safely enter Step One of our Roadmap to Reopen, we can’t risk increased cases and potential downstream impacts on hospitals and ICUs," a statement from Ontario Premier Doug Ford reads. "Making this tough decision now will allow kids to safely enjoy camps and outdoor activities this summer, and a safe return to school in September."
Remote learning for all elementary and secondary students for the test of this school year.
"While this decision was not made lightly, it has been done with one aim: protect the summer for families and deliver a stable and safe September for students," a statement from Stephen Lecce, Ontario's Minister of Education reads.
Ford said the province has put forward Ontario moving into Stage 1 of reopening to Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, and the province's health table, and is waiting for a response.
When asked if the premier is prioritizing the economy over schools Ford said he does not want to risk the summer, while the province had been saying schools are safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"What I’m choosing is avoiding two million kids going indoors for eight hours a day for a two-week or three-week period," the premier said. "We don't have enough kids or teachers vaccinated, not to mention the second vaccination."
Ford went on to say that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory for school settings.
"Do I believe in forcing anyone to take them? No I don’t, but I’m strongly encouraging everyone to take a vaccine," he said.
Ontario Science Table suggests schools reopen
A letter to Ford from Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table states that schools can re-open safely on a regional basis.
"Science Table modelling suggests that the total increase in cases that would result from re-opening schools is small," the letter reads. "Most public health units believe that they can mitigate and manage those increases in their communities."
"Surveys show a substantial deterioration of mental health status among children and youth during the pandemic. This deterioration is now evident in the form of increased ambulatory care use and hospital admissions, most poignantly for children and youth with eating disorders. We believe these mental health indicators represent the tip of the iceberg and that children and youth mental health will present significant long-term challenges during our recovery from the pandemic."
Following the announcement, people in the province, including health experts, took to social media to respond to the news.
Several other Ontarians, including parents, also took to social media after hoping the province would come to a different conclusion on school reopening.