WELLINGTON COUNTY – Public health has instructed all schools in the region to continue with online-only learning until at least Jan. 24.
The extension, announced on Jan. 7, coincides with the 28-day province-wide lockdown that is expected to end on Jan. 23.
“The importance of in-class education on the overall health, well-being and development of our children remains the foundation of our education system,” said Dr. Mercer, Medical Officer of Health and CEO of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH).
“However, with a significant rise in cases across our region and evidence of transmission among school-aged children, we must make this difficult decision to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our region safe.”
About an hour after the WDGPH announcement, Premier Doug Ford announced all elementary schools across Ontario would be restricted to online learning for an additional two weeks (until Jan. 25).
The province also announced it is extending by two weeks the lockdown in northern Ontario to align with the lockdown in the southern portion of the province.
“With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe,” said Ford.
“That’s why we’re extending the remote learning period … We have to get the numbers down and today’s measures will help us continue to stop the spread of this deadly virus.
Provincial officials say that since the lockdown began on Dec. 26, trends in public health indicators have continued to worsen across Ontario, including “concerning trends” in health system capacity, most notably in hospitals.
In a Jan. 7 letter to local school boards, Mercer states that as of Jan. 6 the weekly rate of cases per 100,000 people in the WDGPH region is 123.
“This is a significant increase since the last day of school in December and it continues to increase,” the letter states.
Mercer also noted public health continues to receive reports of cases in school-aged children due to community transmission of COVID-19.
Ontario’s announcement states that testing done among students and staff in December confirmed “schools are not a significant source of transmission.
“However, with students having been at home for several weeks and with reports of concerning behaviour over the holidays, the positivity rate among school-aged children has increased sharply.”
The release notes the positivity rate for kids aged 12 to 13 increased from 5.4 per cent in late November and early December to nearly 20% in early January.
Education minister Stephen Lecce said “nothing more important” than getting students back to classrooms.
“However, the best medical and scientific experts have been clear: while schools have been safe places for kids, the sharp rise in community transmission puts that progress and Ontario families at risk,” he stated in the Jan. 7 announcement..
“During this time, students will remain engaged in live teacher-led online learning with access to enhanced mental health and technology supports.”
Mercer told residents she understands online learning is challenging for students and parents.
“Thank you for your continued sacrifices to reduce the threat of COVID-19 to our children and our region,” she stated.
“To our teachers, staff, administrators and boards, thank you for continuing to deliver exceptional education during these difficult times.”
The text of Mercer’s instructions can be viewed here.