Ontario is once again shutting down in-person instruction in schools as the province deals with a third wave of COVID-19 cases.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement at a news conference Monday.
“I can’t stress this enough. We’re at a critical point right now,” Ford said.
“The situation is changing quickly, and we need to respond. Right now, I’m extremely concerned about the new variants.”
Ford did not provide a timeline for when kids would head back to class, saying instead that officials will keep a constant eye on data and trends to determine when children can return to school. Provincial Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said a “prolonged” school closure is “prudent.”
“I know this is not what many of you want to hear,” Ford said.
The premier also said that despite the closures, child care for non-school age children will remain open. Before and after school programs, however, will be closed. Free emergency childcare for school-aged children of eligible health care and frontline workers is also being provided, the province says.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has insisted for days that the government would open schools for in-person learning after the “April Break” this week, except in regions where the local medical officers of health chose to keep facilities closed.
Lecce repeated that sentiment in a letter to families yesterday.
“As Premier Ford has said many times, our priority remains keeping schools safe and open for in-class instruction because learning is critical to the continued development and mental health of our children,” he said.
Lecce reversed that stance speaking at Monday’s news conference, calling the move to shut-down in-person instruction a “preventative one.”
“This worrying trend will leave us in an impossible situation if we do not act immediately,” Lecce said.
When asked why he changed his position on schools in less than 24 hours, Lecce said the decision was made after discussions with Williams and other medical officials “over the past hours.”
The ministry reported another 217 school-related cases of COVID-19 today, including 186 students, 30 staff and one person who was not identified.
About 27 per cent of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly-funded schools currently have at least one confirmed case of the illness.
Last week, the local medical officers of health in Peel Region, Toronto and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph decided to close schools in their respective public health units.
7-day average of new cases hits pandemic high
Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 4,401 cases of COVID-19 today, the second-most ever on a single day in the province, while public health units logged one of the highest test positivity rates of the pandemic.
Labs completed 47,929 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and collectively reported a 9.5 per cent positivity rate, according to the Ministry of Health. The last time that figure climbed above 9 per cent was in early January, at the height of the second wave in Ontario.
The number of vaccine doses administered stumbled on Sunday, with just 74,722 shots given out. More than 100,000 doses were administered on four days last week, and health officials have repeatedly said there is capacity for up to 150,000 per day in the province.
Ontario has now used about 80 per cent of the 4,031,325 doses it has received from the federal government to date.
Last week, Ford set the target of giving 40 per cent of the province’s eligible population a first dose by the time the current stay-at-home order ends near the end of this month.
Ten of the province’s 34 public health units saw triple-digit increases in cases in today’s update.
They include 1,282 in Toronto, 772 in Peel, 564 in York Region, 339 in Ottawa, 224 in Durham Region, 177 in Halton Region, 147 in Niagara Region, 135 in Simcoe Muskoka, 129 in Hamilton, 112 in Middlesex-London,
The seven-day average of daily cases is up to 3,782, a new record.
Hospitals ramping down non-urgent procedures
Toronto’s local medical officer of health said this morning that models forecast the city could see up to 2,500 additional cases per day by the end of the month if the current rate of new infections continues on pace.
As of yesterday, there were 1,646 people with COVID-19 in hospitals, the Ministry of Health says.
Of those, 619 are being treated in ICUs for COVID-19-related illness, while 408 are on ventilators. Both figures are new pandemic highs for Ontario.
Hospitals have started ramping down elective surgeries and non-urgent procedures today to ensure they have the capacity to treat more COVID-19 patients. Health Minister Christine Elliott said last week that could increase intensive-care unit capacity in Ontario by up to 1,000 patient beds.
Hospitals in northern Ontario are exempt from cancelling non-urgent procedures but a memo from Ontario Health on Thursday night said they should prepare to ramp down quickly in the near future.
The memo also asked hospitals to identify staff who may be redeployed to other sites if necessary.
Meanwhile, the province reported the deaths of another 15 people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 7,567. The seven-day average of COVID-19-linked deaths is about 16.