The Ford government is making progress when it comes to protecting education workers and specific age groups in certain COVID-19 hotspot regions.
The province confirmed Wednesday that while Ontario schools will remain open in regions where it’s permitted, beginning during the April break, education workers who provide daily support to students with special education needs and all education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods in Toronto and Peel, will be eligible to get a vaccine.
Additionally, the Ford government says mobile teams are being arranged to administer vaccines in high-risk congregate settings, residential buildings, faith-based locations, and locations occupied by large employers in hot spot neighbourhoods to individuals aged 18-and-up.
“While our government took decisive action by implementing the provincewide emergency brake, more needs to be done to protect against the threats to our health system resources and the continued health and safety of individuals and families across the province,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.
“By further strengthening public health and workplace safety measures, we can work to reduce transmission of the virus while we work to roll out Phase 2 of our vaccine distribution plan, and put more needles in the arms of Ontarians.”
Doug Ford says that pop-up clinics will also be set up in neighbourhoods disproportionately impacted by the virus, including at faith-based locations and community centres, in collaboration with public health units.
Premier Doug Ford says if there is a vaccine supply, 40 per cent of Ontarian adults could be vaccinated by the end of the stay-at-home order. As it stands now, the order is set to be lifted on May 6.
“That’s when things start to change dramatically in our favour,” said Ford in a tweet on Thursday.
This comes as Ontario’s teacher unions repeatedly call for the mass vaccination of all education workers and more protection in schools.
Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, union leaders said online learning should be adopted across the province until the safety of staff and students can be guaranteed.
“Immediate steps must be taken to ensure the safety of education workers and students in hot spot areas including a temporary move from in-person to virtual learning,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.
He also thanked public health officials in Toronto and Guelph for moving their schools to virtual learning on Wednesday.
He also praised Peel Region’s top doctor for shifting to online classes on Tuesday.
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Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who has insisted that schools remain open for in-person learning, says that enhanced safety measures will be put in place to protect students and staff once they return from the April break.
“We’re going to be encouraging outdoor education. More outdoor learning where it is possible this Spring and Summer. We know it has helped us in the Fall,” said Lecce.
“We’re going to be strongly urging as much education, experiential outside in our parks, in our playgrounds to make this learning experience possible but safe.”
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Lecce said teachers’ unions were stoking fear when it comes to school safety and protocols put in place.
Hammond was joined at the news conference by representatives of unions for secondary school teachers, English Catholic teachers, Franco-Ontarian teachers, and non-educational school staff.
Hammond said that about one in four schools in Ontario has an active COVID-19 case but that the true number of infections is probably larger.
“The incidents of cases in schools is likely much higher but because the government has failed to provide sufficient access to asymptomatic testing we simply don’t know to what extent,” said Hammond.
All of the educational worker unions called for mass vaccinations of school staff as soon as possible.
Hammond said that his union was open to mobile immunization clinics vaccinating staff on site.
“I have no idea why that hasn’t happened yet.”
Ontario reported 416 new cases of COVID-19 among school-aged children on Wednesday.
There were 118 new cases among children aged four to eight, 158 among children aged nine to 13, and 140 among children between the ages of 14 and 17 for public schools.
Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, which represents non-educational staff, said that even with schools closed to in-class learning employees could still be at risk.
“We had seven out of eight custodians (in Thunder Bay, Ont.) contract COVID-19 while not a single student was in the school, yet they still had the (personal-protective equipment), they still were following all of the precautions,” said Walton of the last time Ontario closed schools after the winter holidays.
“This idea that if schools are closed everyone is safe and nothing is going to happen is not truthful.”
With files from The Canadian Press