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Province closing schools, moving students to virtual learning after April break

Ottawa's medical officer of health said late last week that Ottawa was trending toward city-wide school closures due to rapidly rising COVID-19 numbers.
2020-09-02 OCDSB school COVID-19 protocol social distance 5
An Ottawa-Carleton District School Board school with COVID-19 measures in place, September 2, 2020. Photo/ OCDSB

It appears a major decision has been made for Ottawa Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches, as Premier Doug Ford says the government is keeping all schools in Ontario closed to in-person learning indefinitely following the current school break.

“We are seeing a rapidly deteriorating situation with a record number of COVID cases and hospital admissions threatening to overwhelm our health care system,” said Premier Ford on Monday, April 12.

Dr. Etches said late last week that Ottawa was trending toward city-wide school closures due to rapidly rising COVID-19 numbers, but was going to wait until this week to make an official call.

“As I have always said we will do whatever it takes to ensure everyone stays safe," adds Frod. "By keeping kids home longer after spring break we will limit community transmission, take pressure off our hospitals and allow more time to rollout our COVID-19 vaccine plan.”

Elementary and secondary schools in the province are to move to teacher-led remote learning when students return from the break on April 19.

Private schools operating in-person this week are to transition to remote learning by April 15.

Ford says data will be assessed on an ongoing basis and health officials will be consulted to determine when it will be safe to resume in-person learning.

This is a rather unexpected shift, as Stephen Lecce issued a letter to parents on Sunday that wrote all publicly funded and private elementary and secondary schools would stay open for in-person learning despite the province’s stay-at-home order.

Lecce said Monday that while it is the government’s priority to keep students and the education system safe, he is becoming more concerned about the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

Child care for non-school-aged children will remain open, before and after school programs will be closed, and free emergency child care for the school-aged children of eligible health care and frontline workers will be provided.

“This was not a decision we made lightly, as we know how critical schools are to Ontario students. Our priority has always been to keep schools open, however sharply rising community transmission can put our schools and Ontario families at risk,” said Minister Lecce.

“While Ontario’s plan has kept schools safe, as confirmed by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, we are taking decisive and preventative action today to ensure students can safely return to learning in our schools.”

The province reported a test positivity rate of 9.5 percent, up from 7.7 percent a day ago and 7.8 percent last week. It is the second-highest positivity rate the province has recorded since the start of the pandemic.

There was a rate of 9.7 percent on Dec. 29 and Jan. 4 during the peak of the second wave.

Last week, Lecce said that enhanced safety measures will be put in place to protect students and staff once they return from the April layoff.

“We’re going to be encouraging outdoor education. More outdoor learning where it is possible this Spring and Summer. We know it has helped us in the Fall,” said Lecce at the time.

“We’re going to be strongly urging as much education, experiential outside in our parks, in our playgrounds to make this learning experience possible but safe.”

The Ford government’s decision to shelter schools for in-person learning comes after multiple public health units, most notably in Toronto and Peel, issued a Section 22 order to close all schools for two weeks and move to remote learning only.

Toronto’s top doctor says that at the current rate of transmission the city could see 2,500 new COVID-19 cases per day by the end of April.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said Monday the surging rates are being driven by more transmissible variants of concern in the community. De Villa says the current record for daily cases in Toronto is 1,642 and was set during the second wave of the pandemic. She says the city is vaccinating more people against the virus but that still won’t be enough to offset the impact of the variants. De Villa says people are moving less since the new stay-at-home order has come into effect, but not in every part of the city.

The government is also expanding the number of pharmacies administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged 55 and over this week.

An additional 700 pharmacies are now offering the vaccine, with another 100 expected to join the immunization campaign by the end of April.

The province reported 217 new COVID-19 in schools today, including 186 in students. 2,629 cases have been recorded in the last 14 days.

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