Ontario promises improvements to pandemic safety plan before schools reopen

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Lecce said the government was committed to reopening schools, but wanted to ensure they were safe.

Elementary and secondary students are slated to return to bricks-and-mortar schools in southern Ontario, including Ottawa, on Jan. 25. Students in northern Ontario are scheduled to return Jan. 11.

The province announced Thursday that it would extend remote learning at home for southern Ontario elementary students, who were originally supposed to return to school on Jan. 11, for another two weeks.

The province is experiencing record numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The number of school-age children with lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen since late November, and the percentage of tests coming back positive among children has spiked.

Lecce says another element of the plan to improve safety when children go back to bricks-and-mortar schools is to conduct testing of asymptomatic students and staff.

Testing will provide a better picture of the prevalence of COVID-19 in schools, identify people who have the illness with no symptoms and help control outbreaks.

A four-week pilot project of pop-up testing was conducted at schools in Ottawa, York, Peel and Toronto before the holiday break.

That will be expanded across Ontario, Lecce said.

“All public health units will be eligible, will have the capacity and the testing kits required to do that type of surveillance testing, meaning that we’re going well beyond the four highest-risk regions that exist today.”

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