KINGSTON, ONT. -- Parents and medical health experts in Kingston have launched a new petition, calling on the Ontario government to return to a more regional approach to reopening under COVID-19.

They say the mental health crisis is worsening amongst kids, and schools should reopen in areas where case numbers are low, so that students can get back to socializing in a COVID-safe environment.

The group also says more power should be given to local medical officers of health to decide what should be open and closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, including schools.

In an interview with CTV News Ottawa, 14-year-old Olly Saunders says he’s one of those finding the lockdown difficult mentally.

"An inability to sleep and then I’ll be extremely restless," Saunders says.

The Grade 9 student says he’s not alone either, not being in school to learn and see friends has been felt in many of his friends.

"I don’t think I know a single person who hasn’t struggled with mental health during this lockdown," says Saunders.

This is what Dr. Rupa Patel says is a part of a growing mental health crisis among the youngest population.

The family physician says she’s seeing more and more patients at younger ages struggling.

"Kids are on drugs, they're using more marijuana," explains Patel. "They're on their screens more. Their sleep and wake cycles have gotten messed up."

She’s among those who have signed a petition calling on the province to give more power to medical officers of health. Signatories include the CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, Kingston-area medical health experts and doctors.

The petition says that while COVID-19 should be taken seriously, areas like Kingston have had success with low transmission in classrooms, and should be given leeway to make decisions.

"Based on their regions COVID activity in consultation with the schools, and the immunization rates, it makes sense that they can make a decision about school opening and closures," says Patel. "That is just more locally relevant."

But Dr. Kieran Moore, the medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, tells CTV News Ottawa that public health officials like him in each region are regularly in contact with the province.

He says as hospital rates remain high, outbreaks continue in the health region, and the growing variant strains making the rounds, he supports the school closures.

"This virus is more aggressive now," says Moore. "It spreads more quickly. And being along the (Highway) 401, it’s one exit away from re-entering our community."

 Olly’s mom, Lucy Saunders says she feels that students need to be able to see friends safely.

"It’s really quite scary," she says. "What the current state of mental health is going to mean for them in the future."

Olly says just being allowed to physically distance visit with a friend or two would make a difference to him.

"Just talk and stuff," he says. "As humans we need human connection."