The COVID-19 test for Ontario students is expanding, and as more schools reopen in the midst of the second wave of the epidemic, boards will also be allowed to tap teacher candidates to fill distribution roles.
Education Minister Stephen Les announced the changes at a news conference Monday in Queens Park.
Provincial officials previously said the target test would be available at all public health units where students return to class. With 25,000 labs and 25,000 locations in Ontario, they expect to have the ability to complete rapid antigen testing per week, but have not provided a deadline for how long it may take to reach that level.
The test will be an option for students and staff who volunteer, officials said.
The Ministry of Education previously conducted approximately 9,000 target tests between November 26 and December 18, 2020 at some schools in Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa. Officials said today that public health units have found the initial phase to be effective in monitoring and controlling COVID. -19 cases within the respective limits.
Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of Ontario Health, said the province recently approved a low-penetration cloth for small children in conjunction with a manufacturer of rapid antigen tests, sometimes struggling with the usual nasopharyngeal pattern.
The expansion of the pilot program is paying Ottawa another 1 381 million recently released as part of the second phase of a return to federal safe class funding. The previous 1,381 million came from federal funding to reopen the school last August.
That money will be placed among additional priorities for health and safety in schools and the development of summer and online learning support, Les said.
Meanwhile, the province says it is making a temporary change in its teacher certification program to help school boards deal with teacher shortages.
The province said the change would allow about 2,000 student teachers to fill distribution roles.
Teacher candidates must join the current program, having successfully completed a portion of it. They are scheduled to complete their project by December 31, 2021.
Last fall, boards were allowed to bring in retired teachers and principals.
To date, more than 500,000 students in 19 of Ontario’s 34 public health departments have been given the green light to return to their classrooms. Those in the Middlesex-London, Ottawa, southwestern and eastern Ontario health departments are among the areas where instruction began in person this morning.
The next wave of students from Toronto, Peel, York Region, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton is currently scheduled to return on February 10th. Asked if the return date was certain, Les said he hoped it would be safe to do so.
Dr David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer, said transfer rates were falling in some parts of the province where COVID-19 trends had been hit hard, and he hoped the February 10 return would happen. He said local health officials will tell if there is progress in reopening schools in a particular area.
In a recent letter to Les and Health Minister Christine Elliott, regional health officials called on the provincial government to prioritize the opening of schools before removing other public health restrictions.
“After carefully reviewing and reviewing local indicators, we hope that it will be possible for schools to reopen before other departments reopen, as home stay orders will be elevated to the province,” the doctor wrote. Paul Rumeliotis, President of the Council of Health Officers of Ontario.
“All schools in Ontario need to reopen safely.”
The U.S. CDC says transmission risk is low
The letter, dated last Friday, cited guidelines from Sikits Hospital in Toronto, which flagged “the dangers of prolonged school closures” and recommended that classrooms be “last and first open” on a daily basis.
It also noted a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows that the risk of spreading within schools is lower, with the need for masks and the cooperation of students.
Ontario has introduced some new safety measures in schools this winter – including cover for grades 1 to 3 – and the debate continues over whether the measures are adequate.
A provincial-wide lockout began in Ontario on December 26, and this was in addition to the accommodation provided earlier this month.
These measures prevent the spread of the virus to at least part of it. The seven-day average of new daily cases of COVID-19 in Ontario has been declining since January 11, and hospital admissions have been declining.
However, revised models released last week warned that variants of the virus could dominate in mid-March.