Ontario schools will remain closed for in-person learning for the rest of the academic year.
Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the announcement at a press conference at Queen’s Park on Wednesday afternoon.
“At a time when our top priority is putting the third wave behind us so that we can safely enter Step One of our Roadmap to Reopen, we can’t risk increased cases and potential downstream impacts on hospitals and ICUs,” Ford said in a statement. “Making this tough decision now will allow kids to safely enjoy camps and outdoor activities this summer, and a safe return to school in September.”
“I will not take unnecessary risks with our children right now,” Ford added at the press conference. He noted that the province is fighting a third wave, driven by variants of the COVID-19 virus.
“Unlike the original strains, we know that some of the variants we’re fighting right now are more dangerous for children,” Ford said.
In-person learning has been closed since mid-April in an attempt to mitigate the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the province.
Recent modelling by the Science Advisory Table revealed that, if Ontario reopened schools to in-person learning, the province could see an increase of six to 11 per cent in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases. It is unknown, however, how many of these would be the new, more dangerous B.1.617.2 variant, which was first identified in India.
For almost two months now, Ontarians have been asked to remain at home, except for essential purposes, such as exercise, going to the grocery store, pharmacy or accessing health care services, due to a province-wide stay-at-home order. As of Wednesday, June 2, Ontario’s stay-at-home order and emergency order officially expire.
Still, emergency orders currently in effect under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act have been extended until June 16, 2021 province-wide, including restrictions on gatherings, businesses, services and activities. This includes limiting indoor gatherings to households only and outdoor gatherings to up to five people (with limited exceptions), maintaining a cap of 25 per cent capacity for essential retail (where only certain goods are permitted to be sold), restricting non-essential retail to curbside pickup/delivery and limiting short-term rentals to individuals in need of housing.
The good news is that Ontarians can leave home to travel within the province to a secondary residence for any reason, however, they can’t host members of another household indoors except for a person from another household who lives alone or a caregiver.
The provincial government originally enacted the stay-at-home order on April 7, in addition to declaring a third provincial emergency and enhanced public health measures, in response to the rapid increase in COVID-19 transmissions.
The measures seem to have worked—at least in terms of decreasing COVID numbers. On April 7, Ontario reported 3,295 COVID cases and 19 deaths. As of today (Wednesday, June 2), 733 cases were reported, with the seven-day average of new infections decreasing below 1,000 for the first time in over 6 months. There were, however, 25 virus-related deaths reported Wednesday, bringing Ontario’s total COVID-19 related death toll to 8,791.
Wednesday’s numbers include 173 new cases in Toronto, 134 in Peel, 69 in York Region and 66 in Hamilton.
In terms of hospitalizations—as of June 1, 708 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19. This number includes 576 patients in ICU due to COVID-related critical illness and 399 patients in the ICU on a ventilator due to COVID-related critical illness.
The province is aiming to reopen in three stages with the first step, estimated to begin around June 14, permitting outdoor activities with limited, well-managed crowding and restricted retail.
“As we look towards Step One of Ontario’s Roadmap and begin to gradually lift public health measures, it remains critical that all Ontarians continue to follow public health advice and roll up their sleeves to receive the vaccine. Every dose administered means we are one step closer to the end of the pandemic,” Christine Elliott, Ontario’s Minister of Health, said in a statement.
As of Wednesday morning, 9,342,121 doses of approved COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Ontario out of 11,009,725 doses delivered (meaning 84.9 per cent of doses delivered have been administered). Approximately 58.107 per cent of all people in Ontario have received at least one dose.
However, some are calling on the provincial government to immediately begin reopening the economy to save thousands of businesses from being forced to shutter their doors permanently.
“Open letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford: Let small businesses reopen now,” Dan Kelly, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, tweeted.
— Dan Kelly (@CFIB) June 1, 2021
Click here for more COVID-19 Ontario updates.