February 11, 2021, Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, announced the Ontario government’s decision to delay March Break until the week of April 12-16, in an effort to reduce community transmission of COVID-19.
Minister Lecce was joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams. Following the announcement, attendees responded to questions from media.
Later today, Ontario released updated COVID-19 modelling, which demonstrates that key indicators of COVID-19 transmission are currently declining. However, the modelling also highlights the continued threat posed by the B.1.1.7 variant (first identified in the U.K.) and the associated risk that cases may grow again by late February or early March.
Ontario also launched four new Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) programs that are focused on increased economic development and promoting job creation in Ontario’s North. The four new programs include the Community Enhancement Program, the Cultural Supports Program, the Invest North Program, and the People and Talent Program. The new programs, which begin today, target existing and emerging markets, support more projects in small and rural communities, address the skilled labour shortage, and simplify the application process.
Ontario Delays March Break
This afternoon, Minister Lecce announced the government’s decision to delay March Break until the week of April 12-16. This decision was made in consultation with Dr. Williams, other public health officials, and stakeholders from the education sector.
According to Minister Lecce, the intent of today’s announcement is to prevent a repeat of the spike in COVID-19 transmission which occurred in December and January as a result of holiday gatherings. He added that delaying March Break by a month will allow for greater consistency for school-age children, many of which would have returned to in-classroom learning in mid-February.
Regarding March Break travel plans, Minister Lecce and Dr. Williams stressed the importance of refraining from international, interprovincial, and intra-provincial travel over the school break.
While today’s announcement applies only to Ontario public schools, Minister Lecce emphasized that his message to private schools is to cooperate with the government by following suit.
Questions from Media
Vaccination of Long-Term Care Residents
Minister Elliott was asked about a government news release issued earlier today, which incorrectly declared that Ontario had met its goal of completing the first round of COVID-19 vaccines for residents in all long-term care homes by February 10. In response, Minister Elliott said that the release was issued as a result of a miscommunication, and there are a small number of homes in which residents have yet to receive their first dose.
Next Phase of Immunization Campaign
When asked about the prioritization of different groups for the next phase of the province’s immunization campaign, Minister Elliott indicated that following vaccination efforts in long-term care, high-risk retirement homes, congregate living settings, and Northern operations, and the 80+ age group would be prioritized. According to Minister Elliott, this age group includes about 600,000 people.
Updated COVID-19 Modelling
This afternoon, Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, and Dr. Williams presented updated COVID-19 modelling for Ontario.
Key findings include:
- Adherence to public health measures has resulted in a decline in mobility, cases, positivity, and hospitalizations.
- Focusing vaccination efforts in long-term care is paying off with declining daily deaths.
- The more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant is spreading. It currently represents between five and ten per cent of cases in the province.
- Aggressive vaccination and continued adherence to the stay-at-home order will help avoid a third wave and third lockdown.
- Some mental health indicators are worsening, including emergency department admissions, opioid deaths, and care for eating disorders.
During today’s modelling update, Dr. Brown emphasized the severe threat caused by the B.1.1.7 variant, which he noted will soon become the dominant strain in the province. Given that this variant is more transmissible, the province needs to maintain an R rate of below 0.7 in order to prevent another increase in cases as this strain becomes more prevalent in the community. If the province maintains its current R rate of between 0.8 and 0.9, the B.1.1.7 variant will cause case numbers to climb by the end of February or early March.
Dr. Brown also noted that if public health measures are lifted, cases could “dramatically rise.” Depending on the spread of B.1.1.7, this could result in between 5,000 to 6,000 daily cases by the end of March.