‘It really does make me nervous’: For students, back to class means back to public transit amid a rising fourth wave of COVID-19

Keith Baybayon is looking forward to going back to class this fall. But it’s the commute he’s not so keen on. The 16-year-old is heading into his senior year at Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School in midtown Toronto. After the pandemic limited in-person attendance last year, this fall the plan is for students like him to be in school every day, which will hopefully mean Baybayon’s final year is a more normal one. But to get to class Baybayon, like thousands of other Toronto students, will have to rely on the TTC. He will need to take two bus routes to get to school — the 52 Lawrence West and 61 Avenue Road — and the thought of being on crowded transit vehicles for more than an hour each day makes him more nervous than the prospect of sitting in a class full of students. “Just because we’re going to school every single day now for this upcoming school year, I just know that (transit) is going to be much more crowded than usual,” said Baybayon, who is a student trustee with the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB). “My main concern is obviously the people that don’t respect physical distancing and just decide to sit wherever they want to. And also the people who don’t wear masks.” “It really does make me nervous,” he said. With classes set to resume next month amid a rising fourth wave of the pandemic, parents and students have no shortage of things to worry about this school year. But while public debates about air filtration, cohorting and vaccine mandates have largely centred on how to keep students healthy once they get to class, added to the mix is anxiety about kids being crammed onto public transit on their way to school. It’s a big enough worry that it’s affecting some families’ choices this fall. Nicole Desaulnier’s 15-year-old son Julian is going into Grade 10 at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts, and after all the disruptions last year she was hoping he’d get to finally spend time with his classmates face-to-face. But she made the difficult decision to keep him in virtual learning this coming semester, in part because it doesn’t feel safe to have him ride the TTC. “In Grade 9 he didn’t have the opportunity to make a lot of new friends, so the social aspect he is definitely missing out on,” Desaulnier said. “Going back to school this year was really important for me.” To get to Rosedale Heights from their home in Cabbagetown Julian would have to take a bus and then transfer to the subway. Even though Julian’s fully vaccinated, Desaulnier said that with the more contagious Delta variant circulating she doesn’t want to risk it. “I don’t want him on a crowded platform, (or a) crowded car,” she said. About 14 per cent of Toronto District School Board (TDSB) students have opted out of in-school learning this semester, according to the board, but will be attending class in person. TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the transit agency is preparing for an influx of students taking transit in September and has been consulting with post-secondary institutions and school boards about its plans. As it did last fall, the agency intends to reintroduce about 180 school “trippers,” which are special bus trips timed to first and last bells at high schools that have high ridership. The trippers will mostly serve schools in the inner suburbs of Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York. The TTC will also continue measures it undertook earlier in the pandemic, including , providing real-time vehicle crowding information through transit apps, upgrading air filtration systems and instituting a demand-responsive service plan. It has also made masks mandatory for riders and employees. But while the agency says compliance is high, the rule is not strictly enforced. There’s no consensus on how readily COVID-19 spreads on public transit. Public Health Ontario has advised that evidence is “mixed” and the degree to which riders are at risk “is still largely unknown.” Toronto Public Health doesn’t advise against taking transit, but recommends riders avoid travelling at busy times, keep a distance from other passengers, and always wear a mask. Green said that while no cases have been conclusively linked to transit, the agency doesn’t “take that for granted.” “We absolutely understand the concerns our customers may have, especially those who have not ridden the TTC in the past 18 months,” Green said. “That’s why we’ve undertaken extraordinary measures to ensure the TTC remains safe for our customers and employees.” The TTC expects back-to-school transit use and higher rates of workplace commuting to help drive ridership to between 46 to 56 per cent of pre-COVID ridership this fall. As of mid-August it was at about 37 per cent, or roughly 644,000 trips per day. School boards are also keeping an eye on transit safety. In a statement, the TCDSB said it “maintains regular communication” with the TTC to advise the transit agency of school program hours when students are travelling, and helps them identify any localized problems as they arise. The board said that once classes resume staff will be reviewing COVID-19 safety tips with students and reminding them “to remain vigilant whenever they are out in the community — and especially when using public transit — by practising proper social distancing, hand hygiene and use of face coverings/masks.” TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said when the board receives reports of crowding on transit it alerts the TTC, and the agency has “been quite receptive to feedback.” Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation for the Star. Reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

Midland woman complains to Elections Canada about robocalls from Barrie-Innisfil candidate

Many people hate those annoying unsolicited phone calls with a machine at the other end. But these calls were even more troubling for Tammy Stadt of Midland, when she kept on getting robocalls from the Conservative party asking her to support Barrie-Innisfil incumbent John Brassard. That’s because Stadt doesn’t even live in Brassard’s riding. “If a campaign can’t call their own riding’s constituents, how can they manage to their needs if they are re-elected? I can’t even vote for the guy if I wanted to,” she told Simcoe.com Not that she ever would. Stadt has worked on Liberal campaigns in the past and has made calls looking for support herself. But those were live calls, and she made sure she didn’t call the same person twice, she said. Stadt said she received six Brassard robocalls at her Midland home last week. When she reached out to Brassard’s campaign and asked for the calls to stop, they kept coming. Then she received a live call asking her to support Brassard. “I live in Simcoe-North riding, not Barrie-Innisfil. The calls have come to my Midland, Ontario, home phone number,” she said. “I could understand if they came to my mobile number, which is a Barrie prefix.” Stadt has made a complaint to Elections Canada and the CRTC about the robocalls. Brassard’s campaign manager, Rob Dekker, said he has requested a third-party company that sends out the calls to stop calling Stadt’s home phone. Dekker said he has only received two such complaints, including the one he received from Stadt. “They should have removed the number by now,” he said. “It’s a third-party company, so I can’t say for sure.” Stadt said the calls did stop over the long weekend, but she is still perplexed as to why she kept getting the calls to her Midland number in the first place.

Some Wasaga Beach residents will see water temporarily shut-off Monday

The water main will be temporarily shutdown for some residents along on Monday, Sept. 20 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. This is part of the Ramblewood Drive reconstruction project currently underway. The water main will be lowered in select locations requiring the water be turned off.  The town said “all efforts will be made to minimize the duration of each shut down period,” but residents of this area should expect to be impacted at any time that day during the hours listed above.  Once water is back on, residents may notice a brief period of discoloured water, said the town.  “As you may not be aware, the town draws its drinking water from deep well aquifers, which makes it rich in minerals. One of those minerals is iron, and over time, iron deposits build up in the town’s water mains,” states the town.  There is no health or safety risk associated with coloured water, and should clear within 5 to 10 minutes of running your cold water tap. Anyone with questions may contact site representative, Kevin Pelch at

Here is what you need to know about the riding of Simcoe North

THE RIDING: The electoral district of Simcoe North consists of the City of Orillia, towns of Midland and Penetanguishene, townships of Ramara, Severn, Tay and Tiny and Beausoleil First Nation. It spans about 2,380-square-kilometres and is home to more than 111,000 people, 49 per cent of whom are over the age 50. THE RACE: There are six candidates currently vying for the open seat in Simcoe North. They include: (Green) Brooks, a 28-year-old resident of Rama First Nation, is a First Nations advocate. She strongly advocates for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two spirit and federal Indigenous issues. “As someone who has experienced marginalization and many social injustices, I feel I represent a vast majority of the local population and am able to utilize my past personal experiences to benefit others who are experiencing similar obstacles such as addiction, homelessness, Indigenous issues and the barriers that come with being an Indigenous woman, as well as environmental racism, which is one of the many contributing factors in the current climate crisis we are facing.”  (Conservative) Chambers, a 36-year-old father of two, lives in Port McNicoll. The assistant vice-president at Canada Life spent four years as a senior adviser to former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty. “I live in Port McNicoll, just outside of Midland, with my wife Jane and our two kids, Davie and Cooper. It’s where I was born and raised. I know and understand the issues affecting the people in communities within Simcoe North.” (NDP) Durnford, a 53-year-old elementary school teacher, has lived in Orillia since she was eight-years-old. The mother of two has taught Grades 2 to 8 since 1991. “I am best placed to represent this riding because I care deeply about the people of the riding, and I pledge to work hard, to listen and represent their best interests in Ottawa.” (Christian Heritage) Emo, a 58-year-old commercial insurance broker, lives in Kirkfield (a village in Kawartha Lakes.) The father of five has worked in the insurance industry for the past 20 years. “We have had a lot of broken promises made and then covered with lies. Sadly, there have been no repercussions as longtime politicians have each other’s back. How can you possibly have a non-partisan ethics committee that is mostly made up of your own party? The government literally has a continuous get-out-of-jail free card. I have always owned up to my mistakes and accepted the consequences. It’s your moral and ethical duty to your constituents as they are the ones who trusted you enough to represent you in Ottawa.” (Liberal) Wesley-Esquimaux, 64, is the chair of truth and reconciliation at Lakehead University. Prior to that she served as vice-chief for Anishnabek Nations for eight years. “I live in Orillia, and have lived on the shores of Lake Simcoe for over two decades. I feel my experience over time doing public education, working with various levels of government, my knowledge of broader issues, my work on Indigenous reconciliation nationally and internationally, and my ability to educate and engage people is a significant asset.” (People’s Party) Makk, a 59-year-old owner and operator of a high-tech electronics design and manufacturing business, lives in Victoria Harbour. He enjoys the outdoors and cares about nature. “I am best placed to represent the riding both due to my competence at communicating and understanding diverse viewpoints, but also because the PPC will not whip MPs’ votes. A PPC candidate can be the best advocate for the community because I can freely represent my constituents as they, and I, together wish.” THE ISSUES: A variety of issues are top of mind for candidates and residents, including: affordable housing, protecting and conserving the environment, strengthening the county’s post-pandemic economy, following through on recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, supporting infrastructure in rural communities and long-term care for seniors. BACKGROUND:  Conservative MP Bruce Stanton has represented the people of Simcoe North since 2006, serving five consecutive terms. In the October 2019 election, Stanton received 43.5 per cent of the vote to edge out Liberal candidate Gerry Hawes and retain his seat on Parliament Hill. Disclaimer: Poll results are not scientific. As the informal findings of a survey presented to the readers of this site, they reflect the opinions of those readers who have chosen to participate. The survey is available online to anyone who is interested in taking it.