Inoculation if necessary, but not necessarily inoculation.
Not unless and until absolutely necessary.
Now, Doug Ford sees the utility and necessity, belatedly and at long last.
Vaccination . Details to come, as Delta comes on strong.
But by dragging his feet on the rolling up of sleeves, the premier has left much of Ontario in the lurch — not least an education system that is coming out of its summer slumber to face a September of discontent and disruption over COVID-19.
Hundreds of thousands of post-secondary students making their way to campus in coming days may find themselves potentially locked out of classrooms and relegated, yet again, to online learning — unless the government clears up the confusion. The challenge is Ontario’s indecision on whether to enforce a strict two-metre “social distancing” requirement that could well wreak havoc on campuses.
Colleges and universities got a green light to resume in-person learning just last month. Now, amid mixed signals and radio silence, post-secondary institutions fear they’ll be forced back to social distancing unless Ford settles an emerging split within his government.
Based on the government’s initial go-ahead, , universities and colleges have been promising smaller in-person classes, tutorial workshops, science labs and hands-on vocational training — all scheduled to begin within days. Now, some at Queen’s Park are having second thoughts about how close students can get on the lab floor or the shop floor.
Sources told me of a cabinet split, while the key ministers I spoke to downplayed any schism. But the debate comes against the backdrop of continuing dithering on vaccinating at the top levels of the Ontario government.
As has emerged between Dr. Kieran Moore, the chief medical officer of health who works directly with the premier, and the council that represents all 34 regional medical officers of health. The regional doctors have formally recommended vaccine requirements for all students and support staff on campus, but Moore (who ran the regional Kingston unit before being promoted by the premier in June) wouldn’t go along.
Undaunted, the local doctors on vaccine passports. When push came to shove, Ford backed off his stubborn certification already endorsed by provinces from B.C. to Quebec.
Such is the state of bureaucratic inertia and political paralysis in Ontario today. It helps us understand the incomprehensible indecision surrounding COVID-19 of recent weeks.
In mid-July, the deputy minister overseeing colleges and universities quietly gave approval for in-person classes to resume on campus this fall, without any physical-distancing restrictions. But in recent days, with vaccinations slowing and COVID infections rising, top decision-makers have argued that post-secondary students should be kept apart after all — which would effectively preclude small classroom, workshop and laboratory settings where two-metre separations are impractical.
That would leave most colleges and universities right back where they started last term, with tuition-paying students once again stuck online in bedrooms or residence rooms, not in classrooms and labs. That prospect has panicked post-secondary institutions, still reeling from the distance-learning experiment of the past year that prompted students to question the value-for-money proposition of paying full tuition in a pandemic.
Sources say university and college presidents, already distressed by decreased cash flow, have reached out urgently to the premier’s office warning of consequences for the mental health of their students and the fiscal health of their institutions. Yet for weeks, the Ford government has refused to impose mandatory vaccination, let alone certification of those who have gotten the jab.
The government’s disconnect is difficult to reconcile: Vigilance on distancing while vacillating on vaccinating.
In this misguided tradeoff between rights and wrongs — the right to education versus the right to ignorance — universities and campuses are on the front lines, which is why most of them have finally done what the province didn’t dare to do: Mandated vaccines so that the majority can benefit from unimpaired in-person learning, while relegating the unvaccinated minority to online lessons at a distance.
Surely the priority for post-secondary students, like most secondary students, should be the proven protection of vaccination, backed by mandatory masking. Those are the first lines of defence when dealing with the airborne contagiousness of Delta, with social distancing coming a distant second.
By closing off the options of vaccine mandates and passports until now, an increasingly desperate government has made itself more dependent on social distancing as a solution that won’t get us very far — and opened the door, down the road, to lockdowns for society at large.
We are . We need vaccination not only in education but everywhere — across the private sector, in all workplaces, and in public spaces.
If not, we will witness the human toll as infections go up. And we will pay an economic price as lockdowns come back in.
When that happens, when the cost of inaction is infection, how will we judge our delinquent leadership? The longer we wait, the greater the missed opportunity for a premier missing in action.
Martin Regg Cohn is a Toronto-based columnist focusing on Ontario politics and international affairs for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: