Covid-19 schools

Ontario expanding testing and safety protocols as students head back to school

The Ontario government is providing an additional $381 million through the federal Safe Return to Class Fund to better protect students, staff, and families as schools reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding will be used to improve air quality and ventilation in schools, support online learning, promote student mental health, and hire additional staff. The announcement was made on Monday afternoon at a press briefing headed by Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

“To protect Ontario students and staff, and with the aim of reopening all schools, we have again strengthened our plan with tougher measures and new investments,” Lecce said. “We agree with parents and medical experts that kids need to be learning in class, alongside their friends and teachers, as it is crucial for their mental wellbeing and development. We will continue to follow expert medical advice and work to get all schools open, for children in all regions of our province.”

 

 

On Monday, elementary and secondary schools in the following four additional public health units were permitted to return to in-person learning,  bringing the total number of students able to learn in-person to 520,000 across the province:

  • Eastern Ontario Health Unit
  • Middlesex-London Health Unit
  • Southwestern Public Health
  • Ottawa Public Health

Before and after-school childcare programs may also resume Monday for these public health units, while emergency childcare ended on Jan. 29. Students from Toronto, Peel, York Region, Windsor-Essex, and Hamilton are scheduled to return on Feb. 10 — although it’s not a certainty at this point.

“We hope to provide that clarity to parents, based on the advice of the chief medical officer of health; that analysis is being done in real-time, and, the position of the government is — we want to get this right. We want to keep kids in class, to stay in school,” Lecce said at the press conference. “Which is why we have taken a more cautious approach of opening up those public health units with lower rates of community transmission, to get these kids back, to build confidence, and to make sure that those measures are in place.”

The additional measures being introduced to protect schools during reopening include:

  • Province-wide access to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff (including lab-processed PCR and rapid antigen tests). The province has procured test collection capacity for up to 50,000 tests per week, to be deployed by local public health units in collaboration with schools.
  • Mandatory masking for students in Grades 1 to 3 (this includes outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained).
  • Enhanced screening of secondary students and staff.
  • Discouraging students from congregating before and after.
  • Temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels (this will essentially allow school boards to employ eligible teacher candidates when there are no occasional teachers available from their current lists, to address labour needs and the high rates of staff absenteeism).

“With these enhanced measures, we are making good progress towards a province-wide return to in-person learning, while keeping the safety of children, teachers and schools at the forefront,” Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health said. “Moreover, I am pleased to be getting more children back in class, which greatly benefits their development and well-being.”

Not everyone was satisfied with the messages conveyed by the provincial government.

 

 

On Monday, Ontario reported 1,969 new COVID-19 cases and 36 new deaths (19 of those deaths are from long-term care homes). The number of new cases is a slight increase from the 1,848 cases reported on Sunday, but a decrease from the 2,063 cases reported on Saturday. From the new cases, 886 are in Toronto, 330 in Peel, and 128 in York Region.

According to Health Minister Christine Elliot, Ontario labs processed 30,359 test specimens in the past 24 hours, and, as of 8 p.m. Sunday, 341,900 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered.

Click here for more COVID-19 Ontario updates.

Article exclusive to TRNTO