Ontario has confirmed more than 300 COVID-19 cases at the start of the school year – a number that one expert says the virus is spreading faster than last year and schools are about to close as Thanksgiving approaches raising the alarm.
Ahmed Al-Jaishi, an epidemiologist and postdoctoral fellow at the Ottawa Health Research Institute, said he was surprised to see 328 confirmed cases among students and staff when the province released its preliminary data on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what I was expecting,” said al-Jaishi. “But my gut reaction was, ‘That’s a huge number.’ “
Based on his research, al-Jaishi said that community transmission for people under the age of 20 is six times higher than last year. This year, Al Jaishi found that there are 60 COVID-19 cases per million for people under the age of 20. Last year the number was 10 cases per million.
Provincial data released on August 23 and Tuesday showed that 218 of the 4,844 schools being tracked in the province – or about 5 percent – have confirmed staff or student cases. According to archived data, there were fewer than 30 confirmed cases in schools at this time last year.
Avenue Road Public School in Cambridge and David Maxwell Public School in Windsor both have the most, with a total of eight cases in each school.
According to provincial data, there are 14 COVID-19 cases in 13 schools in Toronto, the majority of which are students.
The cole élémentaire La Mosaïque in East York has the most of all schools in Toronto, with two confirmed cases. There is one case in each of the twelve remaining Toronto schools.
Meanwhile, Toronto Public Health is investigating 23 schools that potentially have COVID-19 cases. The province’s numbers are for confirmed cases only and do not specify the source of infection.
They may also lag behind other reporting. For example, Ontario specifically warns that if there are any discrepancies between public health unit data and data, then public health unit data should be considered the most up-to-date numbers.
Last week, Dr Kieran Moore, chief medical officer for health, said that although people should expect some COVID-19 activity during the school year, schools are relatively safe. Moore cited federal data showing that 87 percent of students who got COVID-19 during the school year contracted it from an outside school.
Al-Jaishi has independently monitored the Ontario school case count since last September.
Because the school year has just begun, most of these cases are the result of community transmission rather than school transmission, he says.
Al-Jaishi said, “If cases are increasing in schools, we know cases will increase in the community, simply because children do not live in silos – they interact with family members, friends and other members of the community.” Huh.” “I think (the school case count) is an important indicator of what’s going to happen in the community.”
Although the province remains committed to keeping children in school uninterrupted, especially with more widespread vaccinations, Al Jaishi does not believe this school year will go smoothly amid the ongoing pandemic.
“I think right now we are set to fail and we are ready to close the school early, potentially more likely for Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Al-Jaishi said. “I hope that doesn’t happen, but if nothing changes, I personally see it right there.”