Toronto schools work to reassure parents about coronavirus amid rumours, concerns
Codi Wilson, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, January 28, 2020 9:24AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 28, 2020 2:46PM EST
A spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board says officials are working to combat rumours that have been circulating about the new coronavirus in Toronto and reassure parents that the risk to the public is still “very low.”
“We rely on the medical experts,” TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird told CP24 on Tuesday morning. “They have not advised us to take any additional precautions.”
Bird said while the school board is maintaining the “status quo” at the moment, the TDSB is working with public health officials to make sure students and staff are protected.
“(We’re) staying in touch obviously quite closely to make sure if there are additional steps that need to be taken, then we will do those,” he said.
Bird said there have been a “range” of reactions from parents.
“We are seeing people that understand the situation and others, there are rumours that start online… What we are trying to do is just rely on the facts,” he said.
“We don’t have any confirmed cases at the TDSB at this point and… if there is anything you need to know, we’ll absolutely pass that along from health officials.”
Canadian medical officials have confirmed two presumptive cases of coronavirus in Toronto but noted that they are closely monitoring an additional 25 people with respiratory symptoms who have travelled to the Hubei region of China.
The two Toronto patients are a husband and wife who officials say recently visited Wuhan, China.
There are believed to be more than 4,500 cases of coronavirus in China and more than 100 deaths.
In a letter sent out to Ontario school boards on Monday, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said the wellbeing of residents, especially students and school staff, is a "top priority."
“These presumptive confirmed cases was not unexpected and the health system’s response has ensured that the risk to the general public from these cases has been minimized," the statement read.
"The first patient was promptly identified prior to transport to the local hospital, health care workers wore appropriate personal protective equipment, and the patient was immediately placed in isolation, where they have remained. The second case has been in self-isolation since arriving in Toronto.”
Williams said that additional cases will likely come to light in the province in the coming weeks.
“These presumptive positive cases do not change the overall risk to Ontario, which is still considered low,” the statement noted.
Parents and staff at a Toronto area private school have been urged to “remain calm” in light of news that two parents were on the same flight as one of the coronavirus patients.
“Both parents immediately self-identified to York Region Public Health and are in close communication with them for their recommendations. As a precautionary measure, they will be quarantining themselves for the recommended 14-day period to ensure the safety of themselves and others,” read an email sent out Sunday by David Young, the head of the Toronto Montessori School.
“In addition, and with the support of both families, we have asked that they take the added precaution of keeping their children at home for the time being.”
The statement went on to say that although the decision was made not to shutter the school this week, parents should “appraise the situation and make their own decisions.”
“At this stage, and desiring an abundance of caution, we would like your support for an additional measure. If you have travelled to an area under a travel advisory we ask that you remain at home for the recommended 14-day period upon return to Canada, even if you feel well,” the statement read.
“I recognize the impact on schooling however, I suggest that the reassurance and safety of the whole community take precedent.”
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, said staff have been "working around the clock" to reach out to anyone who has been in close contact with the two Toronto patients.
"We have been doing this to inform these people that they may have been exposed to a potential health risk, and so that they know what signs and symptoms they should look out for, and when and what type of medical treatment they need to seek if that becomes necessary," de Villa said in a statement released Tuesday.
"This is part of our routine work in public health to protect the health of our residents. I'm pleased to share that this process is well underway and we have reached out and heard back from the vast majority of these individuals."
School officials in York Region warn against 'bias,' 'racism'
The chair of the York Region District School Board, Juanita Nathan, and Louise Sirisko, the director of education, issued a statement on Monday, cautioning people to “avoid any hint of xenophobia” when it comes to categorizing the new coronavirus.
“While the virus can be traced to a province in China, we have to be cautious that this not be seen as a Chinese virus. Those who are afflicted or are potential transmitters are not just people of Chinese origin,” the statement read.
The statement comes following an online petition that called on schools to request students whose families have recently travelled to China to "self-quarantine” for a period of 17 days.
The chair and director of education stated that the school board is aware of “an escalated level of concern and anxiety among families of Chinese heritage.”
“Situations such as these can regrettably give rise to discrimination based on perceptions, stereotypes and hate,” the statement concluded. “Individuals who make assumptions, even with positive intentions of safety, about the risk of others, request or demand quarantine can be seen as demonstrating bias and racism.”
The Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice plans to host a press conference at city hall on Wednesday to address "undue and unfair stigmatization of Chinese Canadian communities" in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
The news conference will be held at 1 p.m.