Pediatricians ask for a plan
Ottawa's Dr. Andrzej Rochowski says he was flabbergasted to watch the province release a pandemic reopening plan last week with no mention of schools.
“We know how restaurants are going to open, how golf courses and marinas are going to open, but we have no idea how schools are going to open.”
The province's reopening announcement came after the top pediatric organizations in the province joined to call on the province to immediately reopen schools, saying getting students back in school with appropriate safety measures must be a top priority.
“The impact of school closures and the resulting isolation on the health and well-being of children and youth has been impossible to ignore,” the letter said.
It was signed by the CHEO and SickKids hospital, as well as organizations representing every pediatrician and pediatric organization in the province.
Rochowski, who is a member of the Ottawa Community Pediatricians Network, said his members have been alarmed by signs of poor mental health they've been seeing in children and youth during the pandemic. The situation worsens when schools are closed, said Rochowski and others.
Earlier, members of the organization said they understood the decision to close schools during the third wave of COVID-19 in the province, but they feared the decision would be hard on children and youth. They and others have said school reopening must be the province's first priority.
The lack of a plan for school reopening has shocked pediatricians, Rochowski said.
“It is stunning,” he said. “The question we have is: `Where is this government's priority when it comes to schools?' ”
Pediatric health organizations, including CHEO, are bracing for a worsening of the mental-health crisis affecting children and youth. Community pediatricians are seeing more cases of eating disorders and other mental-health issues than ever.
Rochowski said pediatricians who work with older patients are seeing high rates of bulimia and depression. Teachers he has talked to fear high dropout rates.
He said even if it is just for the final weeks of school, reopening in June will make a difference to the well-being of children.
“It gets them reconnected with their friends, it puts a routine in the day and it anchors the day.”
Importantly, he said, the government needs to indicate that the well-being of children is a priority.
“I would like to see the government address the issue of school opening in the same type of manner that they addressed the economy opening. If we have clear parameters for reopening restaurants and gyms, we should have clear parameters for reopening schools.”
Rochowski said the Ontario government needs to indicate whether it is considering allowing schools to reopen on a regional basis, as both Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches have proposed.
“The situation in Peel is different than in Renfrew or Ottawa.”, wh