The threat of the Omicron variant to ‘brick and mortar’ learning in our schools

Skynews Omicron Covid Coronavirus 5600173 Let’s take vaccinations seriously to prevent the fast spread of the Omicron variant

Tue, 4 Jan 2022 Source: Joe Kingsley Eyiah

Omicron? What is that? Why is it so frightening and altering our way of living as we go back to school and work after the Christmas break? The foregoing questions have come to live with us, especially as parents and educators.

Since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the smooth teaching and learning at our schools. We have seen unprecedented school closures during the academic years; online or virtual learning for even elementary students at the detriment of their mental ability as well as social development and the undue stress that teachers and parents have had to go through to support their students/children learning.

Simply put, the two immediate past school years have suffered a huge gap in students learning and academic achievement. And as if the 2021-2022 school year were going to be better for students learning in the classroom, then Omicron suddenly appeared in the world to shatter such hope!


Omicron is the latest or recent variant of Covid-19. The World Health Organisation declared Omicron (or B.1.1.529) as the new variant of the coronavirus which was reported on November 24 in South Africa. That, it is “of concern!”

The newly-detected Omicron variant is the predominant strain of Covid-19 in the world. Though milder than the deadly Delta variant, Omicron spreads faster putting great stress on the health care systems in many countries. For example, Covid-19 case counts across Canada have been rising rapidly over the last couple of weeks, fuelled by the Omicron variant.


Starting Wednesday, January 5, 2022, all publicly funded and private schools in the Ontario Province of Canada have been directed by the Ontario government to move to remote learning until at least January 17, subject to public health trends and operational considerations.

A week before this directive, the Ontario government defying pleads of teachers’ unions and opposition parties had emphatically announced to the public that Ontario schools were to return to in-person learning on January 5 instead of the original date of January 3 after the Christmas break.

The government had then prided itself in giving School Boards in the province 2 days to improve ventilation in classrooms and supply educators/school staff as well as students with C95 face masks to ensure safety in the schools before schools return to brick and mortar learning. What a shabby decision!

Earlier on January 2, 2022, the President of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT), Jennifer Brown had officially written to the Director of Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Colleen Russell-Rawlings, on behalf of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto requesting that the TDSB remain closed and not reopen sooner than January 1 to2 improve the health and safety protocols and systems within the schools. She cited the following among others as reasons for the request:

- To help minimize a potential surge following holiday gatherings

- To ensure that all staff and students receive N95 masks in advance of the

students' arrival;

- To establish better lunchtime protocols for staff and students, given high

transmission rate of Omicron

- To establish a concrete plan shared in advance with the staff about how to

deal with unfilled absences

- To ensure that HEPA filters are distributed throughout the school in all

public spaces

- To procure enough PCR tests for all staff and students

In addition, a delayed return to school gives more time for the TDSB to comply with the OHSA 25(2)(h), “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.”


Thus, students are forced to go back to online learning. The logistics of devices for students who need computers and reliable internet in their homes to be able to successfully participate in online learning have become a nightmare for many parents and school administrators in particular.

Scientists are working to determine how well existing treatments for COVID-19 work. Based on the changed genetic make-up of Omicron, some treatments are likely to remain effective while others may be less effective.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow transmission, and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging.”

Let’s take vaccinations being offered in the various communities seriously to prevent the fast spreading of the Omicron variant among the populations and provide make our schools safe for our students to return to in-person learning.

Columnist: Joe Kingsley Eyiah
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