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Ontario’s medical officers of health silent on Niagara colleague’s split with Kieran Moore on school safety

The majority of Ontario medical officials have remained silent about the recent standoff between one of them, acting Niagara Health Medical Officer Dr. Mustafa Harji, and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, over COVID-19 safety in schools.

Torstar asked all of Ontario’s public health units and their medical health officials if they support Hirji’s decision to enact stricter local COVID-19 safety protocols in schools against the wishes of Moore, who wants Hirji to tread lighter with softer regional recommendations.

After Moore sent a letter outlining his criticisms to Niagara’s boards of directors, Hergé backed away from one of his improved recommendations. The Niagara Catholic School System says it follows all of Hergie’s advice. Part of those recommendations were rejected by the region’s general council.

17 of the county’s 34 health units responded to Tourstar’s inquiry. Of those, only seven called for the health authority’s medical officer to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 based on local conditions and data.

Ten declined to comment at all. Of the 17 who responded to Torstar, only one – Toronto Public Health – provided direct support for Hirji or Moore’s choices.

“I support both Dr. Moore and Dr. Herge and their work,” Toronto Medical Health Officer Dr. Elaine de Villa said in a statement. “Both are highly skilled clinicians and professionals with a common goal to protect and promote public health.”

Moore’s criticism of Hergie became known to the public on January 19, when his message was shared on January 15 on the social media accounts of anti-vaccine activists in Niagara.

Hergé told Torstar that he spoke with Moore by phone on January 15, during which Moore made clear his dissatisfaction with Hergé’s recommendations to school boards that went beyond regional guidelines.

Moore asked Hergie to back off. Hergé, the only medical officer in Ontario to make recommendations beyond regional guidelines, declined.

Al-Harji said he has asked local schools to request a medical note for any student claiming to be exempt from wearing a mask because schools with a large number of exemptions are also seeing higher rates of COVID-19 infection. His department will also monitor carbon dioxide levels in schools, to determine if ventilation needs to be improved to reduce transmission of the virus.

Students and teachers who tested positive for COVID-19 also wanted to stay out of school for at least seven days, rather than the district’s recommendation of five days.

Hergé said that during that Jan. 15 phone call, Moore said he would send his concerns in writing, which was received the next day.

Moore shared his message with the Deputy Secretary of Health and Education as well as leadership of the Niagara School Boards.

“Sharing the message with the deputy ministers, I think this is normal,” Al-Harji said. “But sending the letter to school boards, that’s a little unusual. But I can’t speak to the motives there. That is a question for the Chief Medical Officer of Health.”

Moore declined to comment for this story.

A spokesperson for the Ontario Department of Health sent a statement saying, “Dr. Moore comments from the podium at yesterday’s press conference,” referring to a July 20 press conference during which Moore said he was “looking for clarification” from Hergie.

However, Moore’s letter does not ask for clarity but asks Hergie to follow the district’s guidelines, saying the reinforced measures could harm students.

Al-Harji said that when Moore sent his letter, his department was still working with school boards to find implementation of his recommendations.

“His message has definitely become a talking point,” Al-Harji said. “But our understanding is that School Board partners want to work with us to implement these recommendations to ensure that the return to in-person learning is as safe as possible for students and teachers.”

However, Hargi retracted the recommendation to isolate for seven days, even though he said it risks spreading the virus in schools.

Canada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said last week that a person with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 can remain contagious for up to 10 days.

Hergé said the level of infection begins to drop after five to seven days, but about 30 percent of people can remain contagious for up to 10 days.

Hergé said the five-day isolation period for vaccinated students and teachers is a compromise to reduce COVID-19 absenteeism, but it is “not a good compromise.” His seven-day recommendation was an attempt to bring safety protocols more in line with science.

Faced with opposition from school boards, Hergé came up with a new compromise: teachers and students could return after five days provided they also had a negative rapid test.

Camilo Cipriano, director of education for the Niagara Catholic District Council, said the council is implementing all of Hergé’s recommendations.

“We learned of Dr Moore’s letter to Dr. Hergé as we continued to collaborate with local public health to allow Dr. Hergé to put his enhanced procedures in place while maintaining school operations from an employment standpoint,” Cipriano said in a statement. .

A spokesperson for the district’s largest board, the Niagara County School Board, praised the board’s working relationship with the Department of Public Health as excellent and will follow Hergé’s recommendations on masks and air monitoring.

However, the board decided to reject Hergé’s advice to return to school after he contracted the infection. Students and teachers will not be required to take a negative test before returning to class after five days.

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