Ontario’s top doc says rapid testing into schools is key to reopening them

Threat of COVID variants could delay reopening of schools in some public health units

With schools in several regions of southern Ontario – including Simcoe-Muskoka – entirely online since the start of January, the game-changer for a return to in-person learning is the implementation of rapid COVID-19 testing in schools.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David William, said on Friday the tests will allow for greater surveillance of the virus and will help students return to in-person learning across the province.

“We’re going to utilize those (tests) as best we can to make sure the schools, when they open, are safe,” he said. “We want this extra amount of screening being done to make sure we’re not missing anything.”

The government has been reopening schools at staggered intervals since Jan. 11 when students in northern Ontario returned to in-class learning, where virus levels are low.

More regions will open on Monday including Ottawa, London, the Cornwall-area, and schools in and around St. Thomas, Woodstock and Ingersoll.

Williams said reopening schools in other public health units on Feb. 10 may not happen due to the risk posed by new variants. Premier Ford on Friday would not commit to the previous Feb. 10 reopening target.

“Our goal, ultimately, is to get the kids back in the classroom,” he said. “Prior to the Christmas break, that was the safest place for the kids.”

The state of emergency and stay-at-home order in Ontario remains in effect until at least Feb. 9.