Children and schools not to blame for rising COVID-19 cases locally, region's top doctor says

Students were told to take their belongings home from school just in case they need to be closed in January. But Waterloo region's medical officer of health says students aren't causing much of the COVID-19 spread in this community.

'Spread in the schools hasn't been a significant issue,' Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang says

Waterloo region's medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang says while there have been cases of COVID-19 in the region's schools, the main source of spread has been in the community from social gatherings or outbreaks at workplaces. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Children and in-person learning are not to blame for the rise in COVID-19 cases that started in the fall, the region's medical officer of health says.

Some critics have said schools are leading to increased cases of COVID-19 across the province.

Ryan Imgrund, a teacher and biostatistician from Newmarket, Ont., has called for more asymptomatic COVID-19 testing of students across the province and has called for all classes to be moved online.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit ordered all 114 schools in the region to close a week early because of rapidly rising cases in the area.

Last week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce sent the memo to school boards advising that students should be told to take home everything they might need for remote learning "so that we can continue to be ready for all scenarios," the memo said.

The memo, however, maintains that COVID-19 transmission in schools has remained low.

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang agrees that locally, that's also the case. She says while there have been outbreaks in Waterloo region's schools, schools have not been the problem.

During a COVID-19 media briefing on Friday, Wang said because of the efforts and measures schools and parents are taking to curb the spread of the virus, "the spread in the schools hasn't been a significant issue."

Spread among workplaces

Instead, Wang says spread between close contacts and co-workers is a much bigger concern. She has called for people to dramatically decrease their social interactions at home and at work.

"The numbers in our schools, similar to the numbers in our long term care homes, they follow, generally, the level of community spread," she said.

"What we've seen through September, October, November and now, in December, is that most of the spread is occurring either in social gatherings or socialization among workers in workplace settings when they're in employee only areas."

That includes people on lunch or on break who may be socializing with co-workers and may not be wearing a mask if they're eating or keeping a physical distance.

More cases have been detected in students and teachers as community spread has gone up in Waterloo region and that was expected, she said.

"If you reach high levels of community transmission, you're going to increase the chances it's going to become an issue in settings that have more controlled measures," Wang said.

No direction to close schools yet

The Waterloo Region District School Board says it has not received any direction from the province to close schools in January.

Last week, the board said it wouldn't issue devices to students, such as laptops and iPads, because any items removed from the school would need to be quarantined for a week after it's returned.

"Understandably this would negatively impact learning in our schools, should schools remain open," the board said on its website.

Loretta Notten, director of education for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, maintained in a letter to parents on the board's website that they've had "very, very few cases of 'outbreak.'"

"The number of cases in our schools has grown, reflecting where we are as a region, but in all circumstances, the cases are quickly resolved and all affected individuals return to school in a short period of time," Notten wrote.

Both boards encouraged people to continue to follow public health guidelines to curb the spread of the virus throughout the holidays.

As well, both boards noted there will be a chance for parents to change how an elementary student is learning, whether in-person or online, next month. For the Catholic board, the survey will be open between Jan. 4 and 6. For the public board, changes can be made between Jan. 4 to Jan. 15. Parents can contact their child's school to make the change.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?