Nearly two years into the pandemic and the province and health units still did not seem to be prepared for kids returning to the classroom. Nearly every day since students returned to school the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) has sent out an email to media informing them of new cases at regional schools.
Most notable among these outbreaks of course was Viscount Alexander Public School, in the Riverdale area of Cornwall, which reported a new case of COVID-19 nearly every day for over a week. At one-point last week of the 67 active COVID-19 cases in Cornwall, 15 of them were either students or staff members of Viscount Alexander; that is nearly one-in-five and that doesn’t take into account the other cases at other Cornwall schools.
Last week CCVS, Bridgewood Public, St. Lawrence Secondary, and Eamer’s Corners Public School all reported new cases of COVID-19.
I don’t really blame the school boards for this mess. The school boards are just tasked to work with the directives they’ve been given by the province and use the resources that have been made available to them.
The province was not prepared for the return to school, and it shows. As of Monday, approximately one-in-four COVID-19 cases in Ontario were in schools.
Fortunately, children still are less susceptible to developing serious complications because of COVID-19, but there remains a risk factor in allowing the virus to continue to spread unchecked in schools.
First of all, just because children are more resilient to the disease, doesn’t mean that they can’t spread it to a member of a vulnerable population, like their grandparents, or maybe a parent, sibling or other relative with a compromised immune system.
Additionally, there represents the risk that they could help the virus mutate into a new form that is resistant to existing COVID-19 vaccines, thereby leaving us back at square one in the fight against the virus which is where we were 18 months ago.
The final frustrating factor to this story is related to COVID-19 testing. If a student at a school is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms they must leave the school and they cannot return until they’ve received a negative COVID-19 test.
With how common regular colds are when kids return to school every September as you can imagine, COVID-19 tests are in high demand, a demand that the health unit seems unable to meet.
For the past few weeks I’ve been sent regular complaints from local residents who say they have been unable to get a COVID-19 test for themselves or their children.
Below is just one example of the frustration that has been sent to us by an anonymous reader:
“Are you kidding me? Highest COVID numbers for SD&G are in Cornwall and yet the least testing time available. Sick Sunday? Cannot even make an appointment – no online booking options until 2pm Monday. So, you drive an hour to Hawkesbury if want to start the testing asap. And, you can book it for early Monday as – yes – they have online and phone options. This poor availability is why some ignore the “right thing to do” and assume they are COVID-free and start attending school or work,” reads a submission from a reader for Scuttlebutt that we received just this past Monday.
Cornwall is the largest population centre in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU), but the assessment centre here in town works limited hours. Since June 30 (the end of the last school year), the COVID-19 assessment centre in Cornwall has been open Monday and Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Cornwall COVID-19 assessment centre isn’t open eight hours a day and when it is open, that’s usually during school or working hours and it isn’t even open on weekends.
Akwesasne has a drive-thru testing operation that is by appointment only.
The other three testing centres in the EOHU are all at least one hour away from Cornwall in Hawkesbury, Rockland, and Winchester.
The EOHU reduced the hours of the Cornwall assessment centre after the last school year ended. That makes sense. We are now in the last week of September, COVID-19 cases are rising, kids are getting sick in school, and the EOHU still has not increased the hours or capacity of the Cornwall assessment centre.
Kids are back on the playground, but the ball was certainly dropped here.
What do you think readers? As always, you can send me your Letters to the Editor to firstname.lastname@example.org