The Ontario government has announced elementary and high schools in Simcoe County and Muskoka will resume in-person learning on Monday, Feb. 8.
Schools in Simcoe County and Muskoka join those in Brant County, Chatham-Kent, Durham, Haldimand-Norfolk, Halton, Hamilton, Huron Perth, Lambton, Niagara, Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and Windor-Essex in returning to in-person classes on Monday.
The Ontario government said schools in Toronto, Peel and York regions will continue with online learning only until after Family Day on Feb. 16.
“Following the best medical advice, with the clear support of both Ontario’s and the local medical officers of health, we are reopening schools across the province knowing that we have taken additional steps and made additional investments to better protect our students and staff,” Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement.
“Nothing is more important than returning kids to school safely because it is crucial for their development, mental health, and future success.”
The Ontario government said its decision to resume in-class learning was based on the advice of Ontario’s chief medical officer and the “unanimous recommendation” of the council of medical officers of health, along with the support of local medical officers.
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In Simcoe Muskoka, before- and after-school child care programs will resume on Feb. 8, making Feb. 5 the last day for emergency child care.
“Reducing the transmission of COVID-19 is fundamental to keeping our communities and schools safe,” Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said in a statement.
“Our collective efforts, like strictly adhering to all public health measures, in addition to the enhanced safety measures in schools, will help keep communities healthy and students learning alongside their peers in their classrooms.”
Ontario has introduced new COVID-19 safety measures for schools including, targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff, mandatory masks for students in grades 1 to 3, mandatory masks outdoors for students in grades 1 to 12 when physical distancing can’t be maintained and enhanced screening for high school students and staff.
The province says it will also provide 3.5 million “high quality” cloth masks to schools as a back-up supply for students in grades 1 to 12 and that guidance will be discouraging students from gathering before and after class.
The government also said it will allow eligible teacher candidates who are schedule to graduate in 2021 temporary certification in order to stabilize staffing levels following high levels of absenteeism.
The news to reopen schools in Simcoe County and Muskoka comes as the region is experiencing a decline in the average number of COVID-19 cases reported per day. Last week, the Simcoe Muskoka health unit reported 301 new coronavirus cases, a more than 30 per cent decline from the 442 cases reported during the week of Jan. 17.
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Despite a drop in daily cases, local public health has reported 90 total cases of the COVID-19 B.1.1.7. variant, which was originally discovered in the U.K. and is believed to be up to 70 per cent more contagious than earlier novel coronavirus strains.
The health unit has said 57 people have screened positive for a “variant of concern,” although testing is still underway to determine the exact variant strain.
Elsewhere in the province, schools are already open in Algoma, Eastern Ontario, Grey Bruce, Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge, Hastings Prince Edward, Kingston-Frontenac-Lennox-Addington, Leeds-Grenville-Lanark, Middlesex-London, North Bay-Parry Sound, Northwestern, Ottawa, Peterborough, Porcupine, Sudbury and Districts, Renfrew County, Southwestern, Thunder Bay and Timiskaming.
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