As COVID-19 cases continue to rise at an alarming rate throughout the province, the Ontario government, has extended virtual classrooms until January 25, 2021 for elementary school students in the 27 Southern Ontario public health unit regions and extending the shutdown in Northern Ontario for another 14 days, aligning with the shutdown period in Southern Ontario.
Chief Medical Officer Dr David Williams said he advised the measure after the spread of COVID in schools was starting to hit concerning levels. “We would rather extend the shutdown a few more days, so when we reopen we can stay open,” Williams told reporters. At he same time, due to the fact that Northern Ontario students are not able to learn at home as effectively due to limited access to reliable Internet service, schools there will be allowed to go back to classroom study earlier.
Targeted testing done among students and staff in December 2020 confirmed that schools are not a significant source of transmission. However, with students having been at home for several weeks and with reports of concerning behaviour over the holidays, the positivity rate among school-aged children has increased sharply. Most troubling, the positivity rate for kids aged 12-13 years old increased from 5.44 per cent in late November, early December to nearly 20 per cent in early January.
In response to increasing community transmission, in-person learning will be deferred to January 25, 2021 in Southern Ontario, which aligns with the planned return of in-person learning for secondary school students in these regions. Elementary students and secondary students in the seven Northern Ontario public health unit regions will proceed with returning to in-person learning on January 11, 2021.
Returning students to school now with community transmission and positivity rates so high risks losing the progress made in keeping schools and students safe.
In the nearly two weeks since Ontario was moved into a Provincewide Shutdown, trends in key public health indicators have continued to worsen in both Northern and Southern Ontario, including concerning trends in health system capacity, most notably in hospitals.. The impacts of the shutdowns throughout the province will be evaluated after 14 days to determine if it is safe to lift any restrictions or if they need to be extended.
Child care centres, and home-based child care services will remain open. Ontario is also expanding eligibility for the Ministry of Education’s targeted emergency child care program for a broader number of frontline health and safety workers.
An additional $80 million investment, will be provided for additional technological devices, such as laptops and tablets, to support school boards in procuring about 160,000 additional devices province-wide.