The Government of Ontario is full-speed ahead on a “two dose summer” according to Premier Doug Ford in a Friday announcement from Queen’s Park. Starting on Monday, people over 80 will begin receiving their second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, but progress on vaccines seems to have come at the expense of progress on re-opening schools as the week ends with no announcement on education.
But first, vaccines. According to the Ontario government, the province has reached a key target to have 65 per cent of all Ontarians who are 18 years of age or older receive their first vaccine dose, and they have done it ahead of schedule. Also, with the appropriate vaccine supply, the government now anticipates that the majority of people in Ontario will be full vaccinated by the end of summer.
“Team Ontario has shown what we can do when we have a steady and reliable supply of vaccines,” Ford said in a statement. “Having made so much progress administering first doses, we are now in a position to begin delivering second doses for a two-dose summer. If we receive more vaccines from the federal government, we’ll be able to accelerate our rollout further to offer more protection to Ontarians even sooner.”
People over 80 will be able to get their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday May 31, while people over 70 should be able to start getting their shots on June 14. This is a highly consequential date because it’s expected to be the beginning of the provincial re-opening. Moving into the fist phase of the plan depends on 60 per cent of Ontario adults having had at least one dose, but moving into phase two three weeks after will be contingent on 70 per cent of adults having received one dose, and 20 per cent being fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, here in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health area, 60.4 per cent of residents have received a full dose while just over 8,200 people have been fully vaccinated. At a meeting of County of Wellington council on Thursday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer warned that the region is seeing a slow down in the number of people applying to book a time to get their first does, and that the region may fall four to 5,000 people short of getting to the goal of 75 per cent of the population with one vaccine dose.
Perhaps in response to both the news about second doses, and the call to get more people booked, Public Health reported Friday that they’re seeing a higher than normal volume to their call centre and vaccine booking line.
But while there was progress on vaccination, it looks like this week will end without an announcement on when schools will re-open. Parents, teachers, and opposition parties have all gotten rather testy in the last several days as more doctors and public health experts are expressing their approval to return to in-person learning, while the Premier, cabinet and the Minister of Education seem to be hedging.
“We now feel that from a public health standpoint they are prepared to handle [the reopening of schools],” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said in a briefing on Thursday. “Our case numbers are coming down rapidly, our positivity rate is down and the other thing now is that 65 per cent of the adult population has been vaccinated, many of those are parents of children going to school.”
On Thursday, Ford sent a letter to 50 different scientists, doctors, and educators in search of “sound scientific advice, consensus and considers potential or future risks faced by students and staff.” The Premier wanted answers to seven specific questions including the risk to students, the risk to teachers and staff, and the growing risk of the so-called Indian variant, B.1.617, in the wake of a report from the U.K. that one dose of a vaccine is only 33 per cent effective against?
“As pediatricians, our responsibility is to advocate for the holistic well-being of children and youth—physical, emotional, behavioural, developmental, and mental health—so we must ask an equally important question: What are the risks to children and youth of not re-opening schools to in-person learning to finish the year?” said the Canadian Pediatric Society in their formal response to Ford’s letter.
“After months of promising that school doors would be the last to close and first to open, it was disheartening to see your Roadmap to Reopen make no mention of schools or the needs of children and youth,” CPS added. “This despite widespread consensus that school re-opening must be prioritized ahead of non-essential businesses.”
Meanwhile, Ford’s political rivals blame his hesitancy not on an abundance of caution, but on the Premier’s unwillingness to make a tough decision.
“By insisting on everyone coming to a ‘consensus’ on schools, Doug Ford is fully abdicating his responsibility as Premier and failing children,” said Guelph MPP and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner in a statement. “Being Premier isn’t about being popular. It’s about making the tough decisions. But Ford continues to punt responsibility when it matters most.”
“They’ve suffered so much these past 15 months, and many kids are at a breaking point, but clearly, Doug Ford doesn’t care,” Schreiner added.
A decision will have to be made soon because the last day of school in Ontario is June 29.