The Canadian Paediatric Society, the Pediatrics Section of the Ontario Medical Association and the Pediatricians Alliance of Ontario issued a joint letter on Friday calling for the Ontario government to reopen schools. 

“Online learning is harmful,” the doctors wrote. “Social isolation and prolonged in-person school closures have precipitated increases in unhealthy behaviours such as excessive screen time, reduced physical activity and substance use.” 

The paediatrics groups said that school closures have prohibited children from engaging in healthy behaviours such as hanging out with friends, playing sports and celebrating milestones. 

They added that online learning has contributed to pediatricians seeing increases in depression, anxiety, suicidality, eating disorders, learning problems and delayed development. The declining health and well-being of children and youth is a “public health emergency,” according to the letter. 

School closures, the doctors said, have disproportionately affected racialized children, those living in single-parent or low-income households and those with pre-COVID mental illnesses and disabilities. 

The letter claimed that schools provide essential programs, which have been disrupted in the past two years, arguing that “(i)n-person learning is one of the only near-universal measures available to help children and youth.” 

The doctors go on to recommend that governments avoid shutting down schools “given the data we now have on the harms of school closures and the abundance of virus mitigation resources at our disposal.” 

The letter urges Ontario to restart in-person learning no later than Jan. 17 and not to close schools for the rest of the 2021-2022 school year. 

The Ontario government announced on Monday a slew of measures that included all schools moving to online learning until Jan. 17 because of high COVID-19 case counts stemming from the Omicron variant. 

“As we continue with our provincial vaccine booster efforts, we must look at every option to slow the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant,” said Ontario premier Doug Ford. “Putting these targeted and time-limited measures in place will give us more opportunity to deliver vaccines to all Ontarians and ensure everyone has maximum protection against this virus.”

A study done in British Columbia by the Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed that while COVID-19 case-counts in schools were similar to the level of the virus in the community, there were few transmissions in schools.   

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