Low school-related COVID cases reason for northern schools remaining open: Ontario education spokesperson
SUDBURY -- A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Education told CTV News the reason most northern schools remain open is due to low levels of COVID-19 cases and transmission within facilities.
Amid skyrocketing new infection rates, the Ontario government announced Tuesday new stay-at-home orders and declared a second state of emergency due to the ongoing pandemic. These orders take effect on Thursday.
This left many northern Ontario families wondering why schools would continue to offer in-person learning, which resumed on Monday.
"Schools are reopening with the full approval of the chief medical officer of health as we have seen low levels of cases and transmission within Ontario’s publicly funded schools in northern Ontario," said Caitlyn Clark, the deputy director of communications for education minister Stephen Lecce, in an emailed response to CTV News' inquiry. "For context, of the 496 schools, only six had an active case of COVID-19. Additional health and safety measures are being introduced, and we will be expanding asymptomatic testing province-wide including in the north and providing them with additional funding for technology, (personal protective equipment), cleaning and air ventilation improvements."
As of Wednesday morning, there are four schools in Ontario with recent COVID-19 cases, all in the northern region.
Francis H Clergue Public School in Sault Ste. Marie has one confirmed case of the disease involving a staff member.
The Algoma board tells CTV News that the staffer who tested positive for COVID-19 has not been at school since before Christmas and the positive test has had no impact on school operations.
Pius XII Catholic School in Sudbury has two confirmed cases involving students.
The Sudbury Catholic school board told CTV News the students tested positive over the holidays and not in school at the time. The two students are still not in class.
White Woods Public School in West Nipissing has two confirmed cases involving students and North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit said there is no risk to the school community because the two individuals tested positive last week while schools were closed and students were online learning.
St. Francis Catholic Elementary School in Thunder Bay has one confirmed case involving a student.
High schools in the Sault Ste. Marie area and schools in Fort Frances have extended remote learning until at least Jan. 25.
"Some northern schools have been closed based on direction of local (public health units) and school boards should continue to follow local (public health unit) direction," said Clark. "By Jan. 20, the chief medical officer of health will advise the Ministry of Education on which (public health units) may be permitted to resume in-person instruction, based on the most up-to-date data and modelling.
Since Christmas Eve, there have been 341 new cases of COVID-19 in the northeast region. The COVID-related hospitalizations have gone from zero to 12 in the same period and the Timiskaming District has recorded its first COVID-related death on Monday. The last COVID-related death in the region was Aug. 28.
On Jan. 7, when Ontario announced the extension of the lockdown that began on Boxing Day, the premier cited the lack of access to reliable internet as the reason for northern students being allowed to resume in-person learning while their southern counterparts remain at home.
The stay-at-home orders will start Jan. 14 and will be in effect for at least 28 days. Government officials are expected to provide more details on the newest emergency order Wednesday afternoon.
As of Wednesday morning, the total number of active cases in northeastern Ontario is 175. Read more about where they are here.
Ontario health officials have released a list of who will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine under Phase 2. Find that information here.