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York Region monitoring youth hospitalizations, as cases rise in children under 10

As schools reopen and cases increase, the public health unit could add restrictions for local students, medical officer of health says
back to school
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York Region is rolling out more COVID-19 vaccination clinics to schools as it braces for any associated cases as students return to school today. 

The local public health unit has introduced additional measures, such as including runny noses and sore throats as symptoms to stop students from coming to class, limiting high-contact sports to outdoors and recommending against assemblies and non-essential visitors for the first month, medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji told councillors today as they also returned from their summer meeting break. 

Projections suggest York could face 400 cases per day by the end of October, Kurji said, noting cases are increasing in the 0-9 age group, but not as much in the 10-19 age group.

Although there have not been many hospitalizations among young people, public health is keeping an eye on the situation, he said.

“South of the border in the U.S., we hear reports of some 2,400 children being hospitalized,” he said. “We are actually monitoring our hospitalization in children very closely.”

Cases are still rising across the province, and only children aged 12 and older, born in 2009 and earlier, are eligible for a vaccine. Kurji said York is ready to roll out the vaccine to younger ages when approved, which he hopes could happen before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, youth 14 and older can get a vaccine without parental consent within clinics at school or elsewhere, an approach York has used for several months. Newmarket Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh questioned that and whether parents are informed when it happens.

“That is going to be a touchy area,” Vegh said. “I know that applies to only a very small number of kids. However, parents, we feel very protective. We have a sense of ownership over our children, a sense of responsibility.”

Kurji said the approach is allowed under provincial legislation, and public health felt it was a barrier to getting more people vaccinated, so they do not inform parents when older children get vaccinated without their consent. He noted neighbouring health units are also taking that approach. 

“Our nurses would just ensure they were capable of deciding for themselves, and they knew the pros and cons of the vaccine,” Kurji said.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Kurji said York started rolling out booster doses to long-term care and retirement homes this week. He added public health hopes to complete that rollout within three weeks.

Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Iain Lovatt questioned when the tracking focus would shift from case counts to hospitalizations, given vaccinated people are unlikely to be hospitalized even if they get COVID-19. 

Kurji responded that this is a point of discussion in public health that could happen in the future, adding the delta variant's aggressiveness has led to more morbidity among unvaccinated people compared to previous waves.

“The issue here is if this infection continues to be an infection mainly of the unvaccinated individuals, then we will continue to see increased hospitalizations, increased ICU, perhaps approaching those that we saw in the last wave,” Kurji said. 

Vaughan Regional Councillor Gino Rosati asked about limits on school extracurricular activities and field trips, with Toronto Public Health recommending this week they be paused at schools for the first month. 

Kurji said York is not making that recommendation yet, seeking to keep extracurricular rules consistent for schools versus the greater community. But he said discussions are ongoing about further measures York Region Public Health could implement. 

“We continue to be open to any additional measures that seem to make sense for our particular students."