What’s the plan?
With schools closed for at least two weeks starting Wednesday as students return to virtual classrooms, indoor dining off limits for three weeks, gyms and other facilities closed as well, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman says something’s got to give — or be given.
With just two days until kids return to school, as per the instructions handed down just last Thursday, the provincial government has decided that the omicron COVID-19 variant poses too much of a risk to the health-care system and Ontario’s students will instead have to do their schooling online.
That is infuriating, Lehman says, given the absence of protections at schools such as personal protective equipment, ventilation upgrades and testing capacity.
“I am very frustrated about the schools, because I don’t think it needed to be this way,” he said. “It really feels like this is a last-minute decision on the schools, overturning another decision they made a few days ago.”
The resulting question is what can be done to ease the situation for local families.
Lehman says with the new restrictions, the provincial government needs to also immediately roll out supports for the many families and businesses that suddenly find themselves in the lurch once again.
The mayor points to emergency child care, which he believes should be provided to essential workers beyond the health-care sector given municipalities have three first-responder organizations, as well as essential workers and so many other services that have been identified as essential.
Businesses and those working in organizations impacted by the latest round of restrictions also need support from both the provincial and federal governments.
“We need to hear about that today, tomorrow, not two weeks from now,” said Lehman, adding federal wage supports appear to be in place. “The government, especially Ontario, is going to have to do a lot more. They can’t just announce this and leave everybody on their own.”
Lehman says the municipality will be trying to answer that question, looking at its programming, outdoor facilities or some kind of targeted support.
Although, he said he is happy that the parks and playgrounds weren’t closed again.
“We’ll have more to say tomorrow about what it means to us,” Lehman said. “If you’re going to do these things, like Ontario’s done today, there’s been two years to prepare for this. I hope there’s a plan here to make masks available and testing available in schools.
“As a parent, that’s my No. 1 strongest reaction in this. You can’t do online schooling again, this is crazy. … We were told the schools would be the last to close. And that’s not what’s happening today.”