Ford promises update today on Ontario school reopening plan

Premier Doug Ford said parents, students and teachers can expect an update on in-person learning in Ontario’s schools Thursday afternoon, although some regions are already planning to keep schools closed.

Ford said provincial Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams will be “announcing his decision today,” which the premier says he will support. Williams is set to hold a press conference at 3 p.m. ET, which CBC News is carrying live.

As it stands, students are set to head back to class amid record-high COVID-19 numbers. Ford said Thursday that one in five kids under the age of 13 in Ontario who are being tested are now positive for COVID-19.

“That’s not mentioning all the other kids that haven’t been tested that might have a runny nose or a cough,” Ford said.

“The number one priority is not to put our kids in jeopardy, and I will never do that. Especially at the rates we’re seeing.”

The premier also said that before the holidays, Ontario was seeing positivity rates of around three per cent.

“Now, the information I received as of late yesterday afternoon, that has jumped [by] 116 per cent,” he said. Data shared by the province Thursday shows that from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, the positivity rate increase in the age 4 to 11 age bracket was 116.7 per cent. 

That was the largest jump of any age bracket, followed by age 12 to 13 at a 97.9 per cent increase and age 14 to 17 with a 75.9 per cent increase.

Ontario’s current test positivity rate is 6.1 per cent.

Some regions have already announced schools will close, before the government has said anything about the entire province.

Windsor-Essex’s top doctor says he plans to keep schools closed for a couple more weeks, even if the province doesn’t. Officials also say schools in Guelph and area will be closed for in-person learning until at least Jan. 24.

Toronto Public Health said in an email Thursday it hasn’t made a decision yet.

The province’s previously announced plan was this:

  • Elementary students enrolled in in-person learning will learn remotely for the first week of January, but will return to class on Jan. 11.
  • Secondary students enrolled in in-person learning in northern public health units will return to class on Jan. 11 as well.
  • Secondary students enrolled in in-person learning in the rest of the province will return to class on Jan. 25.
  • Elementary and secondary schools currently enrolled in remote learning will continue to learn remotely throughout January.

Meanwhile, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) released a statement Wednesday calling on the province not to send kids back to class while the province is under lockdown.

“It makes no sense for the government to send students, teachers and education workers back to school while the province is locked for another two to three weeks,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond. 

“Despite repeated calls for adequate safety measures, the government has refused to implement them in a misguided effort to save money, jeopardizing the health and safety of students, educators and their families.”

In that same ETFO news release, University of Toronto epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman noted there is a 10 per cent daily increase in intensive care unit occupancy in Ontario right now.

“This is not the right time to restart in-person learning,” Fisman said.

“We have to assume that there is a lot of asymptomatic COVID-19 in schools. It is irresponsible to send children and educators back to schools without knowing for sure that it is safe to do so.”

According to the latest provincial statistics, which were last updated on Dec. 22, there have been 7,292 total school-related cases of COVID-19 in Ontario. The report lists 20 per cent of schools with a reported case.

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