TORONTO — Students in COVID-19 hot zones Toronto, Peel Region and York Region will have to wait a little longer to get back to class.
The Ontario government announced Wednesday that schools will open in 13 more regions on Feb. 8. Schools in Toronto, Peel and York, however, will not be open until Feb. 16.
These areas will see schools reopen on Feb. 8:
- Brant County,
- Durham Region,
- Halton Region,
- Huron Perth,
- Niagara Region,
- Waterloo Region,
- and Windsor-Essex.
Before and after school child care programs can open the same day schools are allowed to open, the government said.
“We know how critical getting kids back to school is for the mental health and the development of our children,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said at a press conference Wednesday.
“But perhaps most importantly, while kids stayed home to learn remotely and with the introduction of tough measures and the stay-at-home orders … we have seen a consistent decline in community transmission.”
Ontario’s seven-day average of new cases stands at 1,675. That’s down from a peak of 3,555 on Jan. 11.
Lecce said the chief medical officer of health and all local medical officers of health agree that it’s safe to reopen schools now.
The government said it was enhancing safety measures by:
- Doing asymptomatic testing in schools in all regions of the province;
- Requiring students in Grades 1 to 3 to wear masks;
- Requiring students of all ages to wear masks outside when physical distancing isn’t possible;
- Providing 3.5 million back-up masks to schools;
- Discouraging students from congregating before and after school.
The province has said testing will now be available in all regions, with local public health units choosing the schools where testing will be done. The Toronto Star recently reported, however, that testing is rarely happening in regions where schools have already opened.
Lecce said on Monday that when the province offered about 9,000 tests to students, staff and families at schools in COVID-19 hot spots in late 2020, just over 200 new cases were identified.
Ontario staggered reopenings after closing all schools for an extended winter break as part of the province-wide lockdown that began Dec. 26, 2020. Schools in northern Ontario and some rural areas reopened in January, with some others following suit Monday.
“We are the only province that decided to cautiously and gradually reopen our schools,” Lecce said.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles said Wednesday the government’s messaging has created more problems for parents.
Lecce held a press conference Monday and said no decision had been made on when to open the rest of the schools. Later that day, Ford said his goal was still to reopen all schools by Feb. 10. Then Wednesday, the government told reporters Lecce would make an official announcement. But hours before the announcement, Ford said that the government might open some schools on Feb. 8 or Feb. 10, with others opening later.
“It’s confusing and it’s frustrating for everyone. I hear it every day,” Stiles told reporters at a teleconference.
She also said the government needs to do more to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in schools, especially with new variants of the virus detected in Ontario.
The government should do more testing in schools, cap class sizes at 15 kids and guarantee paid days off for workers who are sick or who need to care for a sick child.
“Our children and our communities deserve this,” she said.