Low-risk outdoor sports and indoor activities may resume in schools, says Toronto Public Health

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On Monday, Toronto Public Health said students from different schools and mixed cohorts should limit interactions outside.Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

Toronto Public Health says outdoor sports and low-risk indoor activities may return to schools across the city, lifting a pause on extracurricular activities that had created a rage among many students.

In a statement released Monday, public health officials recommended that school boards allow a “gradual return of clubs, activities, sports teams, orchestras (without wind and brass instruments) and extracurriculars[s], Starting with students aged 12 to 17, who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said public health officials and school boards had always considered a return to extracurricular activities, but needed time for students to settle into their classrooms after a long absence from school buildings.

“It takes time to reestablish routines and establish groups and cohorts of students and get into all of these health and safety protocols.” Dr de Villa said in an interview on Monday.

Even though adolescents are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, public health officials fear the more transmissible Delta strain could disrupt a third year of schooling.

Earlier this month, on the eve of going back to school, TPH recommended a month-long hiatus from sports, in-person clubs and field trips. However, many adolescents, who are vaccinated, called the break unfair.

Shortly after, Dr de Villa said public health was in discussions with school board officials about a gradual return to extracurricular activities.

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On Monday, TPH said students from different schools and mixed cohorts should limit interactions outside. Public health also said schools should keep attendance records specifically for contact tracing.

Masking will not be required when students participate in high-intensity outdoor activities, but TPH said it should be considered where possible. Masking and physical distancing would be required for indoor activities, TPH said.

Brendan Browne, principal of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said training for high school sports, including football, field hockey and cross country, is expected to begin this week. He said many students were disappointed with the break and school officials were “working very closely” with public health to resume extracurricular activities.

“We recognize how much this means to children,” said Mr. Browne.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said sports and clubs should be restored as they play a vital role in the physical and mental well-being of students.

The province’s science advisory table also recommended a return to extracurricular activities, but warned that local public health officials could implement temporary measures and restrictions depending on the amount of virus circulating in the community.

Neighboring councils, including Peel and York, are moving ahead with extracurricular activities. The Thames Valley School Board in London said secondary school students who choose to participate in extracurricular activities should be vaccinated by November 1. In the meantime, students who have not received both doses are allowed to register for extracurricular activities. two weeks after receiving a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, provided they screen for COVID-19 daily and administer a rapid test twice a week.

When asked if Toronto was considering a similar measure, Dr de Villa said it was still a topic of discussion.

“We remain open to the possibilities of what further steps are needed to deal with the circumstances as we see them on the ground,” she said.

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