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Extracurricular activities may gradually return for Toronto's schools


TORONTO, Kan. — Extracurricular activities can gradually return to Toronto schools.

Toronto Public Health said Monday that city schools may slowly allow extracurriculars – including sports and clubs – to resume, and provided a framework to help boards bring those activities back.

"Our goal is to have as few interruptions to in-person learning as possible," Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health for Toronto, said of the return of the activities. 

The province permitted extracurriculars to go ahead when the new academic year began earlier this month but Toronto's health unit had recommended putting them on hold as in-person learning began on Sept. 9.

Both the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board sent letters to parents on Monday saying they would follow the updated guidance from the public health unit. 

"This is very encouraging news as we know how important these activities are to students' mental and physical health and overall school experience," Colleen Russell-Rawlins, the director of education for the TDSB, wrote to parents.

"The start of these activities will vary from school to school based on staff volunteers. We would ask for your continued patience and understanding as schools gradually get them up and running."

Toronto Public Health reported five schools in the city with an active outbreak of COVID-19 as of Monday. 

"It is not unexpected that we've started to see COVID-19 cases in our school settings as we continue living with this virus," said Dubey, who noted that school settings are more vulnerable because a COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been approved for children under the age of 12. 

"People are moving around more, having more contact and there are still a number of unvaccinated individuals in our population."

Toronto Public Health recommended prioritizing lower-risk and outdoor activities as extracurriculars resume. It added that as schools establish their routines, other clubs, activities and teams may return.

The health unit also said school bands may return, but without wind or brass instruments.

Schools should keep accurate records of all students who are part of extracurricular clubs and activity cohorts to help with contact tracing, Toronto Public Health said. 

Toronto's mayor said he fully supported the public health unit's recommendation.

"I know Toronto Public Health is continuing to monitor the situation in schools and is working with the school boards and the government of Ontario to keep schools safely open with in-class learning and extracurricular activities," John Tory said in a statement. 

"We want kids to be safe and healthy in schools – all aspects of schools including extracurricular activities."

The green light for extracurriculars to resume came as Ontario reported 610 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, including 126 in Toronto.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said that 458 of the province's new cases were in people who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status. 

Elliott said that 233 people are hospitalized with the novel coronavirus in the province and 177 people are in intensive care because of it. 

The Ministry of Health said that more than 10 per cent of hospitals did not submit data to the daily report and that it anticipates the number of hospitalized patients will increase Tuesday.

Ontario also reported two new deaths linked to COVID-19 on Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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