Schools closing in Sudbury-Manitoulin as COVID-19 cases surge
Grey zone restrictions expected to begin Friday at 12:01 a.m.
Schools in the Sudbury-Manitoulin district will be closed beginning March 15 as the region grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Included in the closure are all elementary and secondary schools, as well as day cares and after-school programs in school buildings. Students are expected to switch to online learning during the closure. Schools in Chapleau are not included in the order.
Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, the medical officer of health for Public Health Sudbury & District said she made the decision along with the region's directors of education.
"My commitment has been to protect in-person learning as long as we possibly can," Sutcliffe said. "And that has really been contingent on keeping our levels of infection low in the community."
"When it's in the community, it gets into the schools. When it gets into the schools, we see dismissals and we see outbreaks and really significant disruption for our kids."
Individual boards are sending out emails to parents with more details on the shutdown.
According to the health unit, the length of the lockdown and the return to in-person learning will be based on local circumstances such as number of cases, variants of concern (VOCs), active outbreaks, and health system capacity. There is no predetermined end date.
This announcement comes hours following the Ontario government's announcement that it is moving Sudbury-Manitoulin back into lockdown, effective Friday at 12:01 am.
The decision to move into the grey zone on its response framework was made on the advice of the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health due to the "concerning trends in public health indicators and in consultation with the local medical officer of health," the government said in a press release Thursday morning.
Sudbury-Manitoulin currently has 263 active cases.
From March 3 to March 9, the region's case rate increased by 54.1 per cent to 75.9 cases per 100,000 people.
The government said that based on its assessment of data, the lockdown serves as an "emergency brake," which makes an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, guard against variants, and protect the health system's capacity.
Brian Bigger, Sudbury's mayor, said he understands that people were already trying their best to cope with current red zone restrictions.
"Obviously it's been really hard for many people in our community, including small businesses," Bigger said. "But our public health officials clearly are responding to alarming trends that we're seeing in our community, and the spread of the variants across the health district"
"These are tough decisions that public health and the province are making," Bigger added. "But, you know, we have to respect their decision."
Melissa Wood, a spokesperson with the Sudbury Health Coalition, said people in long term care will be most affected by the lockdown.
"Now that it's looking like spring out there, the residents will not be able to have their loved ones come and visit the homes," Wood said. "And going into lockdown, you know, probably their mental health will get worse."
Added to that are the pressures that LTC home workers face.
"Currently most long term care homes are in a staffing crisis currently," she said. "And I think the family members coming in and paying that extra attention to the residents ease the burden substantially on the workers."
France Gélinas, MPP for Nickel Belt and the NDP health critic, said the government needs to step up in the face of this lockdown to make sure schools are safer against the pandemic. She also said this return to the grey zone was "preventable."
"Limit the number of kids per classroom, limit the number of kids per buses at 50 percent," Gélinas said. "Public Health is asking for paid sick days so that when somebody has symptoms, they don't go to work because they need to feed their kids and pay the rent. They stay home."
Gélinas added that she thinks the provincial government isn't following public health advice, taking aim at the pilot project announced that would see certain pharmacies in Ontario administer vaccines to people in the 60-64 age group.
All of it, she said, hurts people in northern Ontario.
"Who are we kidding here? Every primary care provider knows how to provide the vaccine. They would not have graduated from university if they didn't know how to do this," she said. "They have been doing vaccine clinics for ever. And here we have pilot projects in a few city. None of this has been recommended by Public Health Ontario. None of this has been recommended by a science table."
"But those are decisions that Premier Ford is making."
Fore more information on restrictions in the grey zone, visit the government's COVID-19 response page.