The number of COVID-19 cases has begun to tick up slightly in Ontario — 105 new cases were announced Monday, with just over 1,036 active cases in the province.
Both figures reflect a slightly increasing trend, from previous weeks in which the number of new cases mostly stayed under 100 and the number of active cases remained under 1,000.
Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the province was experiencing a "slow burn" of continuing cases, making a forest-fire analogy in which small fires can reignite a larger blaze. However, he said the numbers tell him that public health workers across the province are doing the work they need to do to keep the virus under control.
He also downplayed the recent increase in cases, saying the numbers do not show the increases that some people predicted would come with the further opening of the economy.
The number of people in hospital has also remained relatively low, at 40 down from a high of over 1,000 in May.
The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario is calling on the province to consider taking additional steps to make the school reopening safer, including closing indoor bars and restaurants and limiting attendance at indoor events in order to keep community spread low, capping class sizes and providing the funding to make small class sizes possible, mandating masks for all students when there's no physical distancing, and postponing the start of the school year if necessary, in order to take those steps.
The nurses outlined the concerns in a letter to Williams.
In the same letter, CEO Doris Grinspun also expressed concern that government officials were encouraging parents to keep their children at home.
"We also want to express concern over the repeated suggestions by the government that parents should consider keeping their children at home if they so wish," she wrote. "There is little doubt this type of choice is not equitable across class and social groups, which means it will aggravate the inequities already caused by COVID-19. Simply said, many families that need to work would not have the choice to leave kids at home, thus reinforcing social divisions based on income, race, migrant status, home situation, neighbourhood and region."
Williams thanked the RNAO for the input but didn't signal any willingness to change any of the province's current policies.
The RNAO also had some recommendations for the 500 public health nurses the province plans to hire to work in the school system. The association wants to see that they're all registered nurses, ideally with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. It wants them to work out of their local public health unit.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Liberal Party accused Ford of using public money on "propaganda" radio ads on the back-to-school issue.
"Instead of spending money protecting Ontario students, Doug Ford is spending money on new radio ads to promote his failed back-to-school policies," the Liberals claimed. "Doug Ford needs to come clean and tell Ontarians how much his vanity ads cost. This is money that could be funding teachers, special education professionals and caretakers."
"Doug Ford’s priorities are all out of whack. He’s more concerned about the Conservative Party and their polling, rather than protecting our students and education workers," the party continued. "It’s typical Doug Ford. Rather than doing the right thing to ensure our students can safely get back to the classroom, he’s spending taxpayer money to mislead Ontarians."
"Ford’s ads were cooked up by the same team that ordered propaganda stickers to be added at the gas pumps across Ontario."
The Liberals also shared a transcript of the ads: "We all have a role to play in safely reopening Ontario's schools. That's why the Ontario government asked doctors, health officials, school boards and educators to help build a comprehensive plan to keep our kids safe. Working together, our plan includes physical distancing, putting more nurses in schools, masking, enhanced cleaning and hand sanitization and other measures to ensure the well-being of students and school staff. To learn more please visit Ontario.ca/reopeningschools. Paid for by the government of Ontario."
Meanwhile, the Green Party also accused Ford of campaigning instead of addressing important concerns about the back-to-school plan and other pandemic-related issues
“This is getting ridiculous. We are 14 days away from the start of the school year and the premier is making daily campaign-style announcements with every minister but the one who could update us on the facts about the virus, his health minister," said leader Mike Schreiner in a statement.
"As the elected premier of this province, Doug Ford needs to save his campaigning for 2022 and take immediate action to address the concerns facing our province right now."