The Durham District School Board is calling on Durham Public Health to prioritize vaccinating teachers.
The board passed a motion at a special board meeting Monday night following the standing committee for correspondence to be sent to Durham Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Kyle and Durham Public Health “imploring them to prioritize the immunization of school staff and staff engaged in the direct transport of students.”
Whitby Trustee Nicki Lundquist brought the motion forward during committee due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Durham schools.
“[This] is urgent because we are in this dynamic and ever-changing environment,” says Lundquist, noting the rise in transmission, number of closed classes and schools as well as the general rise in COVID-19 cases and variants of concern is alarming.
“We know that other public health units have closed schools and our public health unit, at this stage, has not moved to do the same,” she continues, adding the ministry of education has also indicated that schools will be the last place to close, despite some epidemiologists and doctors saying workplaces and schools are drivers of community transmission.
“So, if our public health unit is not going to close schools, I think it is incumbent on us to do what we can do.”
According to DDSB Director of Education Norah Marsh, COVID-19 cases have increased by 4.5 times within DDSB schools in the last three weeks.
“We’re seeing increased numbers provincially, and certainly Durham is no exception to that,” she says.
Over the last two weeks, Marsh says DDSB has gone from having no school closures due to COVID to seven schools, as of Monday, that are currently closed due to COVID outbreaks within the school.
“Our overall cases, today we were at 138 active identified COVID cases, compared to two weeks ago when we were at 67, and three weeks ago when we were at 30 cases,” Marsh notes.
Marsh adds schools with cases have increased over the last three weeks as well, with 22 schools with cases three weeks ago, to now 51 schools with cases across the district.
“The number of schools with cases has increased just slightly over double within that period of time,” she notes.
In addition to having seven schools closed, Marsh says there are also a number of classes or cohorts that have been closed over the last three weeks. Three weeks ago, she notes there were 10 classes that were sent home for a period of two weeks, as compared to 95 classes Monday.
As a region, in terms of the weekly case rate per 100,000 individuals, Peel is at 8.6 per cent positivity, Toronto is at 7.1 per cent, York is at 6.4 per cent, Durham is at 6.1 per cent, and Thunder Bay is at 5.1 per cent, according to Durham Public Health. The average for Ontario is 4.7 per cent.
Marsh says there have been numerous meetings between the board and Durham Public Health to ensure they recognize Durham is above the provincial average and the impact it’s having on the school system.
She says Durham Public Health has communicated with the board that teachers are part of the province’s Phase 2 vaccination rollout plan, but it’s a matter of not having enough vaccines and where in the phase 2 bracket teachers will fall, which she says could be anywhere from April to June.
“We’re headed into that group of people, we’re just not quite there yet,” she says.