The Ontario government is moving elementary and secondary schools to remote learning following the April break. The government says that this move has been made in response to the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, the increasing risks posed to the public by COVID-19 variants, and the massive spike in hospital admissions. An end date to the remote learning period was not immediately provided.
Details were provided today, Monday, Apr. 12, 2021, in a press conference hosted by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health.
“We are seeing a rapidly deteriorating situation with a record number of COVID cases and hospital admissions threatening to overwhelm our health care system,” said Premier Ford. “As I have always said we will do whatever it takes to ensure everyone stays safe. By keeping kids home longer after spring break we will limit community transmission, take pressure off our hospitals and allow more time to rollout our COVID-19 vaccine plan.”
Citing increasing rates of community spread and the threat to health and safety of school communities, all publicly funded and private elementary and secondary schools in the province are to move to teacher-led remote learning when students return from the April break on Apr. 19, 2021. Private schools operating in-person this week are to transition to remote learning by Apr. 15, 2021. The government says that data will be assessed on an ongoing basis and health officials will be consulted to determine when it will be safe to resume in-person learning.
Child care for non-school aged children will remain open, says the government, and before and after school programs are expected to be closed, with free emergency child care for the school-aged children of eligible health care and frontline workers to be provided. According to the government, boards will make provisions for continued in-person support for students with special education needs who require additional support that cannot be accommodated through remote learning. Details on these programs were not immediately available.
“This was not a decision we made lightly, as we know how critical schools are to Ontario students. Our priority has always been to keep schools open, however sharply rising community transmission can put our schools and Ontario families at risk,” said Minister Lecce. “While Ontario’s plan has kept schools safe, as confirmed by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, we are taking decisive and preventative action today to ensure students can safely return to learning in our schools.”
The Ontario government cites the rise in case rates, hospitalizations, and ICU occupancy are increasing rapidly, which threatens to overwhelm the health care system. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the province has increased by 22.1 per cent between the period of Apr. 4 and 10, 2021. In addition, during this same period of time, Ontario has seen the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care increase from 494 to 605.
As of Apr. 10, 2021, Ontario had 1,646 COVID-19 patients requiring acute care, which includes 605 patients in ICU, with 382 on a ventilator. Based on the latest modelling data, cases across the province are continuing to grow and the number of people requiring an intensive care bed is projected to rise to approximately 800 people within the next 10 days.
Since Apr. 8, the province has been under a provincewide Stay-at-Home order, requiring everyone to remain at home except for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services (including getting vaccinated), for outdoor exercisewith your household in your home community, or for work that cannot be done remotely. As Ontario’s health care capacity is threatened, the Stay-at-Home order, and other new and existing public health and workplace safety measures, will work to preserve public health system capacity, safeguard vulnerable populations, allow for progress to be made with vaccinations and save lives.
“As we continue to see rapid growth in community transmission across the province, it is necessary to take extra precautions and measures to ensure the continued health and safety of students, teachers and their families,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “As the fight against this third wave of the pandemic continues, everyone must continue following all public health and workplace safety measures and stay at home to prevent further transmission of the virus, so we can once again resume in person learning in our schools.”