As children in Ontario return to in-person learning on Monday, they can expect the schools to offer two rapid antigen tests, better ventilation, and temporary cohorting protocols as measures to protect them against the COVID-19 pandemic, said Ontario’s education minister Stephen Lecce.
Lecce announced these added safety measures and facilities in schools during a press conference on Wednesday in response to concerns about students’ return to in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We believe so strongly that children need to be in school, that they are essential to the mental and physical health of a child and to their academic success,” Lecce said, adding that the decision was “fully supported” by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore and the Ontario Children’s Health Coalition.
Ontario’s Ministry of Education has provided the details of the return to school plan in a document (pdf), pivoted on many previously announced measures.
“Ontario’s plan to open and protect schools is focused on deploying millions of rapid tests to our schools and our child care centers, enhancing ventilation and high-quality PPE, along with increasing access to vaccines for both children on a voluntary basis and staff,” Lecce said.
He said students and staff in schools and child care settings will each receive two rapid antigen tests when they return to schools.
An initial supply of 3.9 million rapid antigen tests is being shipped to schools ahead of the reopening on Jan. 17, while the government will continue to expand access to staff and parents.
The government is also launching school-based clinics to further push for vaccination in children and youth who require the consent of their parents.
In addition, the province will also provide more than 9 million non-fitted N95 masks to all education and child care staff. Another 4 million 3-ply masks provided to students are also on the way to schools.
Ventilation systems in schools have been further upgraded, adding another 3,000 HEPA units to the 70,000 HEPA units installed in schools since September 2021.
During a separate technical media briefing on Wednesday, government officials said school principals will be asked to monitor student and staff absence in schools, and will notify parents when the level of absenteeism reaches roughly 30 percent.
Schools are now required to report staff absences to local public health units on a daily basis to monitor disruptions in schools.
Ontario school boards can also rotate between in-person and online learning to lower the risks of closing schools due to COVID-19-related staff absences when schools reopen.
On Tuesday, parents and the teachers union in Ontario expressed concerns about the reopening plan after the health minister announced that the PCR test will be made available to students and staff at school only when they become symptomatic.