OSSTF Toronto President calls on Dr. Eileen DeVilla and Toronto Public Health to protect school workers
This memo is composed by OSSTF TTBU President Leslie Wolfe and reflects the positions and actions of the OSSTF Toronto Teachers’ Bargaining Unit Executive.
In a series of Tweets released midday today on behalf of the OSSTF Toronto Membership, OSSTF President Leslie Wolfe called on Toronto Public Health to consider not just student health, but also the impacts of student health on the adults who work with them, when assessing the new parameters for COVID-19 testing for children. She further called on Toronto Public Health to make available up to date data on positivity rates by community.
By all credible accounts the science is abundantly clear that young people with COVID-19 often present with only one symptom, and that often that symptom is a runny nose, and that children often have few symptoms that are mild in their presentation. The Ford Government’s move to refuse testing to children with a runny nose, or only one symptom, puts the health and safety of adults who work with those children, and adults who live with those children, at risk. The Ford Government’s move to refuse testing to children with a runny nose, or only one symptom, puts the health and safety of adults who work with those children, and adults who live with those children, at risk.
It is incumbent on the Provincial Government and Toronto Public Health to ensure their public health practices take into consideration the health of all community members, including those who work in schools.
This weekend we saw New York City announce a shut down of 12 New York City neighbourhoods, including their schools, where there is a positivity rate of 3%. All weekend long, the TTBU Executive attempted to get positivity rate data for Toronto neighbourhoods from Toronto Public Health, with no success. This morning on Twitter, Dr Kashif Pirzada released a snapshot of positivity data that shows the north west area of Toronto with weekly positivity rates ranging from 6% to over 11% between end of August and end of September. This is extremely important data, and as such we have called on Toronto Public Health to release updated positivity rata data on a regular basis.
While no one is anxious to move the system fully online, OSSTF Toronto’s role is to ensure that all measures are taken to protect the health and safety of our Members. When we consider together the change in parameters for testing of children; reduced access to testing through appointment-only protocols; a backlog of over 90,000 tests so that results are not provided in a timely manner, and a complete lack of up-to-date positivity data by neighbourhood, it is obvious there are gaping holes in the ability to protect the health and safety Teachers, Occasional Teachers and Education Workers in Toronto, and the adults who live with Toronto’s students.
Members are reminded that if you feel there is anything unsafe or unhealthy about your working conditions, you are required by law to complete an Occupational Health and Safety Concern Form. Members are also reminded that you have the right to refuse unsafe work under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Consult with your Union Representative if you believe you are in this situation.
The following is the letter sent to Dr. Eileen de Villa, Chief Medical Officer for Toronto Public Health:
Dear Dr. deVilla,
I am writing on behalf of the 8000+ Teachers, Occasional Teachers and Education Workers who work in elementary, secondary and adult day schools across the Toronto District School Board to ask you to give strong consideration to their health and safety when reviewing the Provincial Government’s changes to COVID-19 testing parameters for children. I am also writing to ask you to ensure the regular release of up-to-date positivity data by neighbourhood/community.
By all credible accounts the science is abundantly clear that young people with COVID-19 often present with only one symptom, and that often that symptom may be a runny nose. If children and young people with a single symptom are able to attend school without a negative COVID-19 test result, I don’t need to tell you that they are potentially exposing my Members – and all the adults (and other children and their adults) in the school with whom they associate – to COVID-19. Many Teachers, Occasional Teachers and Education Workers are older, and in any case as adults are all at risk of contracting a more serious version of the illness by virtue of this potential for exposure. It is the position of OSSTF Toronto that no child with any symptom that is out of the ordinary for that child be allowed to attend school without first having a negative COVID-19 test result. That is the only way to ensure the adults who work with those students – and the adults who live with those students – are not exposed and/or do not inadvertently expose others.
In addition, on the weekend we saw New York City announce the closure of 12 neighbourhoods with positivity rates of 3%. This closure includes the schools in those neighbourhoods. Over the weekend we attempted to ascertain the positivity rates by Toronto neighbourhood to find that there is nothing publicly available. As I’m sure you’re aware, this morning on Twitter a Dr. Kashif Pirzada released a snapshot that showed the north west area of Toronto with positivity rates ranging from 6% – 11% between end of August and end of September. I am calling on you to release up-to-date data by neighbourhood on a regular basis beginning today so that the positivity rates in a community can be considered when making decisions about how to best protect the health and safety of the students, teachers, parents, guardians and members of the community in that neighbourhood.
I look forward to your response.