Published Thursday, January 7, 2021 11:11AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 7, 2021 5:49PM EST
Students were scheduled to return to classrooms on Monday following a week of online learning but the reopening of schools has now been pushed back until Jan. 25 for the 27 health units in southern Ontario. In-person instruction will, however, still resume at elementary schools in northern Ontario on Monday due to the lower case counts there.
The announcement, which came via press release, comes just days after Education Minister Stephen Lecce sent an open letter to parents in which he reassured them that elementary schools would reopen on Jan. 11 as scheduled.
The decision to extend the closure of elementary schools for in-person learning comes in the wake of CTV News Toronto obtaining data which suggested that the COVID-19 positivity rate among elementary-aged children nearly tripled over the last month as cases surged across the province.
The data suggests that the positivity rate among children ages 4 to 11 rose from 5.22 per cent during the week of Nov. 29 to 15.66 per cent during the week of Dec. 27, as the number of children testing positive in a one-week period jumped from 580 to 720.
The increase was even more stark among children ages 12 and 13. The positivity rate in that group went from 5.22 per cent in late November when 187 children tested positive to nearly 20 per cent by the end of December when 284 children tested positive.
The positivity rates in every other age group tracked by the province also increased over the last month in lockstep with the rising case counts but not to the same degree. In fact, in many age groups the increase in positivity rates was one-third to one-half of what was seen amongst elementary-aged children.
Speaking with reporters during a briefing earlier on Thursday afternoon, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams conceded that the extended closure will be “tough” for many parents but he said that he believes it necessary to give the government time to put in place a number of additional precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 amid record levels of community transmission.
“We are trying to get the right balance here where we have a deferral of the reopening for two weeks while we get these other things in place because we want the schools to be open and we want them to stay open,” he said. “Our methods that we put in place before in the fall in my mind have to be enhanced especially around areas of surveillance and monitoring and promptness and readiness. These aren’t simple things where you turn a switch on. You have to put a lot of things in place and we are working on that at this time.