Ontario Government Giving $35M To School Boards in Pandemic Hotspots as Province Reports 615 New COVID-19 Cases

One month after Ontario schools have reopened for the new school year, the provincial government has announced it will be providing school boards in COVID-19 hotspots with an additional $35 million in funding to hire more teachers and invest in equipment for online learning.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcement on Monday afternoon at Queen’s Park alongside Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

During his announcements, to reassure parents and students across the province, the Premier stressed that his government has “spared absolutely no expense” in ensuring classrooms are safe for students.

“Everyone has been doing a tremendous job to keep the classrooms as safe as possible,” said Premier Ford. “But we can’t take anything for granted. We know there are certain areas of the province that are seeing higher community spread. The schools in those places, they need some extra support.”

According to the provincial government, the new funding will be split proportionally between all public-school boards in Toronto, Peel Region, York Region, and Ottawa, the four areas that have seen a significant spike in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks.

As of Monday, 335 schools in Ontario have reported a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ontario. Three schools have been closed, including a Catholic school in Toronto.

With concerns of the incoming flu season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Education Minister Stephen Lecce reassured parents that the province is preparing to strengthen safety for students, teachers, and parents in schools across the province.

“Now we know the flu season, the second wave is upon us,” said the Education Minister. “This province is ready to bolster our planning, and to strengthen safety in those targeted schools.”

According to Education Minister Lecce, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) will be receiving $9 million of the funding, which could be used to hire about 120 teachers or purchase 11,000 more computers and laptops for online learning.

The announced funding came just as the Toronto based school board reported it has struggled to hire enough teachers in the last month to compensate for an influx of remote learning registrants.

In mid-September, the TDSB said that the school board still needed 500 teachers to meet the growing demand for online learning. In an updated announcement on October 2, the school board had said they have filled 94 percent of those positions.

“For those students and families without a teacher since virtual school began on Sept. 22, we know how disappointing this has been,” the school board said in a statement last week.

“We are sorry that it has taken so long to get students set up in a classroom with a teacher and are doing everything possible to continue to place teachers so that learning can begin.”

When asked about potential measures to close schools amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the province, government officials would not say which factors would be considered when deciding whether to close schools in a neighbourhood or region.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams has said during a press conference that “things would have to increase far more than we’ve seen up until now” for the government to consider closing down schools.

The $35 million funding announced today is part of a $1.3 billion plan to reopen classrooms. About $500 million of that money was unlocked from the reserve funds of various school boards and $381 million was provided by the federal government.

Ontario COVID-19 Update and Statistics

On Monday, Ontario reported an additional 615 cases of COVID-19 as the province begins its move towards appointment-only testing for COVID-19.

Of the 615 new cases reported today, Toronto recorded 289 new cases while the Peel region reported 88 cases and the Ottawa region reported 81 new cases.

This past weekend, the Toronto Public Health Department announced it would temporarily suspend COVID-19 contact tracing outside of outbreaks in congregate settings such as long-term care homes because it is overwhelmed by a surge of new cases in the city.

In other regions of the province, other public health units that saw double-digit increases today include:

  • York Region, 47 new cases
  • Halton Region, 26 new cases
  • Waterloo Region, 15 new cases
  • Durham Region, 10 new cases.

According to the updates from Health Minister Christine Elliott, approximately 58 percent of the new cases reported today are in people under 40 years old. The share of new daily cases in this demographic has been slowly but steadily creeping downwards in recent weeks.

Ontario also recently announced it would end testing for asymptomatic people at its 153 COVID-19 assessment centres, instead of moving to an appointment-only model for those with symptoms of the disease. The decision was made, in part, to help labs clear the backlog of test samples.

Health experts however have warned the shift to appointment-only testing could result in artificially-low new daily case counts later this week.

To date, Ontario has now seen a total of 54,814 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in late January. Of those, about 84.6 percent are resolved. Another 541 were marked resolved in today’s report.

There are currently around 5,474 confirmed, active cases of the illness provincewide, the most since April 26.

The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed infections also continued its steady upward climb up to 176, seven more than yesterday. That figure may be an underestimate, however, as 35 hospitals did not submit data from their daily bed censuses in time to be factored into today’s report.

Forty-three patients are being treated in intensive care, and 26 are on ventilators, the most since early July.

Further, Ontario’s official COVID-19 death toll grew by five and is now 2,980.

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