The Ontario government has announced all education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods in Peel Region and Toronto will be eligible to get their COVID-19 vaccine beginning during the April break next week.
Education workers who support students with special needs across Ontario will also be eligible to be vaccinated.
Eligibility for education workers in other hot spots including Ottawa and York Region will be allowed once the vaccine supply increases.
Premier Doug Ford imposed a four-week provincewide stay-at-home order effective Thursday at 12:01 a.m. However, officials said they are focused on keeping schools open for in-person learning.
“Keeping schools and child care open is critical to the mental health and well-being of Ontario children and youth,” a release said Wednesday.
“Schools and child care will remain open for in-person care and learning in public health regions where it is permitted with strict safety measures in place.”
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province is also expanding asymptomatic testing to pharmacies and assessment centres and urged students and teachers to take part. He said active screening will be mandated in all schools after April break, expanding from just high schools.
Enhanced cleaning of all schools will also take place during the break.
Lecce said teachers, students and other staff will also have a refresher training course on safety protocols upon return from the break.
Government figures show there have been a total of 14,213 school-related COVID-19 cases in Ontario to date — 10,692 among students and 2,356 among staff (1,165 individuals were not identified).
In the last 14 days, the province indicated there are 2,053 cases reported among students, 440 cases among staff and five individuals were not identified — totaling 2,498 cases.
The COVID-19 cases are currently from 1,266 out of 4,828 schools in the province which is 26 per cent of schools.
On Monday, Peel Region announced all schools would move to virtual learning beginning Tuesday until school resumes after the April break. On Tuesday, Toronto followed suit, moving students from in-person to remote learning beginning Wednesday. Classes in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph also moved online.
Those health units said the measure will be reassessed depending on the COVID-19 situation at the end of the spring break next week.
Both government and health officials have said repeatedly schools should be the last to close and the first to open.
“It is our commitment to keep schools open after this April break,” Lecce said.
Ontario has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks as the province continues to be impacted by a third wave of the virus, largely driven by more contagious variants. On Wednesday, 3,215 cases were reported, marking the largest single-day increase since mid-January.
Seventeen additional deaths were also reported, bringing the provincial death toll to 7,475. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units throughout the province also remains among all-time highs, at 504.
—With files from Ryan Rocca and Gabby Rodrigues