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Top doc says contact sports, band practice 'problematic' for students

Medical officer of health says return to school must 'strike a balance' and that may not include music or group sports for a while
Dr. Charles Gardner speaks to the media during a teleconference and Facebook livestream on Aug. 11. Screenshot

It’s unlikely kids who are returning to school in September will also be returning to concert bands or some other popular extracurricular activities.

Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner, said it’s “critically important” schools reopen, but reopening is not without risk.

“Schools are going to be challenged already with physical distancing,” said Gardner. “Activities where kids are close to each other become problematic.”

The Simcoe County District School Board has said physical education classes can resume but the board will only allow physical activities that support physical distancing. Sharing equipment will be “limited.”

As for organized school sports, the school board is awaiting direction from the Ontario Federation of School Athletics Associations (OFSAA).

Requests for comment from OFSAA were not returned in time for this article.

Music and band practice could also be out for local students. Gardner said it would be a problematic activity for students, based on the current provincial restrictions requiring plexiglass partitions to separate performers using brass and wind instruments.

“There are the same sort of requirements for music lessons,” said Gardner. “It would be hard to operate a school band with those requirements in place.”

Gardner has already urged parents to have their children return to school in the fall, even if it doesn’t include music and sports

“In an ideal world, we’d be able to do all those things because they’re certainly good for children,” said Gardner. “We need to strike a balance and do what we can that’s safe while taking our precautions.”

He suggested starting with extra-curricular activities that allow physical distancing.

Currently, the school boards are asking parents to respond to an online survey or otherwise let the board know if their children are returning in-person to school in September or if they will be using distance learning.

Gardner called the return to school the “next test” of living with COVID-19 and the efficacy of the controls in place.

"I think we're about to go through another major stage with the opening of schools," said Gardner. "If you're going full-time and you're going to get the benefits of full-time (school) then you find you'll have to make these other compromises. It's still important to have these controls in place, they're going to be ... less stringent by nature, but you still need controls."  

The health unit is currently awaiting direction from the province on how to handle outbreaks at schools.

Gardner said the standard protocol for Simcoe-Muskoka is to communicate a known case of COVID in a student or a teacher with the rest of the class and perhaps the school and provide direction on who should self-isolate and/or be tested.

“We’ll be applying [provincial direction] locally to be able to respond to any clusters of cases at schools,” said Gardner.