Ontario delays return to classrooms by 2 weeks amid ‘tsunami’ of Omicron cases
Posted January 3, 2022 11:24 am.
Last Updated January 3, 2022 5:22 pm.
Amid what he called a ‘tsunami’ of new Omicron cases, Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that the return to classrooms for Ontario students and staff has been delayed by an additional two weeks.
Last week the province said students would be back in the classroom on Wednesday but following an emergency cabinet meeting Sunday night, the Ford government pushed that date back to at least January 17.
“These two weeks will provide much-needed time for more vaccines and boosters,” Ford said. “It’s more time for additional public health measures to blunt the rapid rise in cases. I know online learning isn’t ideal, but above all else, I want to provide students and parents with certainty, not the turmoil of school closures because not enough staff are available to teach our kids.”
The province says the change is “subject to public health trends and operational considerations.”
The province also noted that:
- School buildings would be permitted to open for child care operations, including emergency child care, to provide in-person instruction for students with special education needs who cannot be accommodated remotely and for staff who are unable to deliver quality instruction from home.
- During this period of remote learning, free emergency child care will be provided for school-aged children of health care and other eligible frontline workers.
Ford acknowledged that the decision will “disappoint, confuse and anger” many.
“I understand those reactions,” he said. ” As Premier these are the hardest decisions to make, but we follow the data and the fact is this — Omicron spreads like wildfire.”
Ford said he spent the weekend being briefed by health professionals, labour leaders and CEOs of large companies, after which he made a swift decision regarding schools and implementing new province-wide restrictions.
“This took me about 30 seconds to make a decision. That was a decisive decision.”
Ford said he was warned that cases in Ontario could spike to hundreds of thousands a day if further action wasn’t taken — resulting in a flood of hospitalizations.
“That’s 1,000 people, 2,000 people, showing up at the hospitals, that’s not sustainable,” he stressed.
He relayed a conversation he had with the CEO of a large courier company who told him 300 people called in sick in a single day.
The decision to keep schools closed longer comes as the highly-transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 has pushed cases to record-breaking numbers.
On Monday, the province also announced it was moving back into a modified Step 2 of its COVID-19 roadmap, effective Wednesday at 12:01 a.m.
The new restrictions, which will stay in place for at least three weeks, include the closure of gyms and indoor dining and further restrictions on capacity limits at retail stores.
“Terrifying for parents”
On Sunday, the Ford government revealed it would no longer collect COVID-19 case numbers from schools and child care centres after new testing guidelines were announced last week.
In a memo to provincial school boards, the Ministry of Education said due to recent changes in case and contact management it will “suspend reporting” of COVID-19 cases in schools.
The opposition NDP called the move to stop reporting cases of COVID in schools and child care settings “terrifying for parents.”
Infection Control Epidemiologist, Dr. Colin Furness, also raised alarm bells about the province’s initial plan to have students return to classes on Wednesday, calling it “catastrophic.”
Furness said a return to classes that fast would result in a “sudden mass infection” that could result in thousands of hospitalizations.
Ontario reported 13,578 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, down from Saturday’s record-breaking 18,445 cases. However, the number of cases is underreported after Ontario changed testing requirements.
The number of ICU admissions continued to rise on Monday. There are now 248 patients in intensive care, up from 224 on Sunday.
The Ontario Health Association says 124 of those patients are on a ventilator. The seven-day rolling average of patients in the ICU now sits at 210.
With files from John Marchesan and Patricia D’Cunha