“We [continue] to have one of the lowest rates of illness in the province,” Dr. Moore said on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. “Our rates are lower than many of the northern health units, whose schools opened right after the new year.”
Kingston-area students have been out of class since Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. The Ministry of Education delayed their return to class following the winter break, originally scheduled for Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, as COVID-19 cases spiked across Ontario.
Ontario has been under a Provincewide Shutdown since Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020 and a stay-at-home order since Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Cases in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health region have steadily declined during that time, with only 10 active cases of COVID-19 currently confirmed in the region.
Ontario parents were told a decision on whether students could return to in-person class on Monday would be announced on Wednesday, Jan. 20 2021. Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, drew negative social media attention when, late Wednesday afternoon, he tweeted an announcement about gas tax funding in Ontario’s York region, but made no indication of a decision on schools.
His statement regarding the reopening of schools was eventually posted at 8 p.m., after the news had already been broken by national outlets who had received a copy. The statement revealed that seven eastern Ontario Public Health regions would be resuming in-person learning, and that virtual learning would continue elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Dr. Moore said he had been anticipating that KFL&A Public Health region would get the green light. He said he had discussed the topic in his weekly conversation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario.
“I was absolutely comfortable, given that our cases are four cases per 100 thousand per week, very comfortable to say that our schools are opening,” he said.
Schools opening with stricter Public Health measures
Dr. Moore noted that students and staff will need to follow some additional Public Health measures when they return to in-class learning.
“There’s mandatory masking now, even in the school yard, when you can’t physically distance,” he said. Previously children were allowed to play mask-free outdoors on school property.
“Also, extra precautions to limit the number of high school students outdoors, congregating. That has to follow the Reopening Ontario Act: five or less are allowed to gather at any one time.”
He reminded parents to send extra masks given the weather, as they can anticipate masks will get wet. “The masks don’t work well when wet,” he cautioned.
“We’re confident that schools will continue to follow best practices. We’re sending out an information package to them that can be sent to parents, and working on a joint communication.”
In the meantime, he asked that any students exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, and students who have travelled outside the region or had visitors from outside the region, get tested now. The COVID-19 assessment centre is open seven days per week, and results are typically returned in under 48 hours.
“We’re ready, locally, and we’ve been in a very good position for the last 10 to 14 days. We’ll monitor the situation very closely,” he said.