Published Sunday, January 3, 2021 12:18PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 3, 2021 12:20PM EST
In a letter sent to parents on Saturday, Stephen Lecce reiterated that “schools are not a source of rising community transmission” and that the institutions have been protected in part due to the extended holiday break.
Ontario went into a provincewide lockdown as of Dec. 26, forcing non-essential businesses to close and prohibiting in-person dining at bars and restaurants.
Among the restrictions, the province announced that publicly-funded elementary schools would be closed until at least Jan. 11. Students will instead participate in remote, virtual learning during the first week of the month.
In northern Ontario, all schools are scheduled to reopen on that date while in southern Ontario, secondary school students were told they would not be returning to the classroom until Jan. 25.
The lockdown itself is scheduled to last until at least Jan. 23 in southern Ontario, pending an extension order by the government.
On Saturday, Lecce confirmed that in-person learning will resume on the original dates outlined.
“We believe so strongly that schools are essential to the well-being, mental health and development of a child, and therefore, must be safeguarded at all costs to ensure they can remain open for safe in-class instruction,” the letter said.
“I want to reassure parents that according to the province’s leading doctors, our schools are safe, with eight out of 10 schools in this province having no cases of COVID-19 and based on board reporting, 99.64 per cent of students have not reported a case of COVID-19.”
Between mid-September and Dec. 21, the province reported 5,103 cases of COVID-19 in students and 1,094 cases among school staff. At least 1,095 additional cases of the novel coronavirus were logged in “individuals not identified,” which could include parents or family members of school-related cases.
Nine-hundred and seventy-six of Ontario’s 4,828 schools have reported a case of COVID-19.
Lecce said that in order to ensure safety in schools this year, the government will continue enhanced testing at schools and “allocate a new and significant investment in school safety, including enhanced air quality, more PPE (personal protective equipment), and additional staffing and cleaning.”
“We will do whatever it takes to ensure our kids can continue to learn,” the letter read.
Over the long weekend, the province logged more than 8,800 new cases of COVID-19. On New Year’s Day, Ontario hit a record high of 3,363 infections while 2,476 cases were reported on Saturday and 2,964 were reported on Sunday.
Over the course of these three days, officials reported 120 deaths related to COVID-19.