January 28, 2021, Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, issued a statement to announce the resumption of in-person school learning in four additional public health units (PHUs), beginning Monday, February 1. As a result of today’s announcement, 280,000 Ontario students will return to the classroom next week in the PHUs of Eastern Ontario, Middlesex-London, Southwestern, and Ottawa.
Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, and the Dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, also provided an update on Ontario’s COVID-19 modelling this afternoon.
Yesterday evening, the government announced the extension of electricity rate relief for families, small businesses, and farms, for an additional 12 days, until February 9, 2021. This rate relief holds electricity prices to the off-peak rate of 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, in order to support those spending more time at home as a result of the provincial Stay-at-Home order.
Additional Students to Return to Class Next Week
This afternoon, Minister Lecce announced that schools in four additional PHUs will be permitted to resume in-person instruction next week, enabling 280,000 Ontario students to return to the classroom.
Effective Monday, February 1, schools in the following for PHUs will be permitted to reopen:
- Eastern Ontario Heath Unit;
- Middlesex-London Health Unit;
- Southwestern Public Health;
- Ottawa Public Health.
Before and after school child care programs in these PHUs may also resume on February 1, and emergency child care will end on January 29.
The above PHUs will join 14 other PHUs in which schools have already reopened for in-classroom learning, including: Algoma, Grey Bruce, Haliburton, Hastings Prince Edward, Kingston Frontenac, Leeds, North Bay, Northwestern, Peterborough, Porcupine, Renfrew, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Timiskaming. In total, 520,000 Ontario students will be able to learn in-person as of next week.
Schools in Ontario’s remaining PHUs will continue remote learning while the Chief Medical Officer of Health assess the situation in each region.
Ontario has augmented health and safety measures in schools, as more staff and students return to in-person instruction. These measures include mandating masks for students in grades 1-3. The province has also expanded access to targeted asymptomatic testing and enhanced screening protocols.
COVID-19 Modelling Update
Late this afternoon, Dr. Williams and Dr. Brown presented updated COVID-19 modelling data for Ontario. Key findings include:
- Cases and percent positivity are down across PHUs, although testing volumes are also slightly down. Sustained high testing volumes, including surveillance testing will be an important part of continued pandemic controls.
- The drop in cases does not yet correlate with a drop in deaths.
- Deaths in long-term care continue to rise and are likely to surpass total deaths from the first wave.
- While hospitalizations are declining, intensive care unit (ICU) capacity continues to be strained. About half of all hospitals in Ontario have only 1 or 2 free ICU beds.
- While there has been some reduction in Ontarians’ mobility, essential work is still strongly associated with a risk of infection. Communities with the highest proportion of essential workers continue to have the highest case numbers.
- The new variant of concern (B.1.1.7., also known as the UK Variant) is spreading in the community and will likely be the dominant version of the virus in March. While new variants allow less room for error, international examples suggest that maintaining public health measures will continue to reduce case numbers, even with a return to school.