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Millions of COVID-19 rapid tests to be distributed when Ontario reopens schools

Ontario government is testing COVID-19 to put two million schoolchildren back in classrooms next Monday.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced on Wednesday that starting next week millions of rapid antigen tests will be provided to teachers and staff in schools, daycares and child care centers, as well as to students.

But families will only be notified by local public health units when absences from their schools reach 30% – although that threshold includes all reasons for absenteeism, not just the highly contagious variant of Omicron – given the limitations. already enacted government laboratory COVID-19 tests.

The plan is for everyone to receive two rapid tests initially, and officials say the goal is to provide a stable supply to schools and daycares.

Queen’s Park is shipping 3.9 million rapid tests this week, with a further 1.2 million expected next week.

Lecce was accompanied by Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, during the press conference in the legislative building.

As first reported by The Star, Ontario students are returning to school on Monday, two weeks after Premier Doug Ford switched to virtual learning amid an increase in Omicron cases.

In-person classes were scheduled to resume on January 5, but Ford announced the COVID-19 breaker two days before that.

Ontario students have spent more time learning online than in any other Canadian province or state – some 27 weeks since the pandemic struck 96 weeks ago.

Virtual learning will continue to be available to students and parents who want it.

Parents and pediatric experts, including those at Sick Kids and CHEO in Ottawa, have urged Ford to allow resumption of in-person classes due to the adverse effects on children’s mental health.

Last Friday, 136 healthcare, business and community leaders wrote an open letter to the Star and other Torstar publications pleading with the prime minister to reopen schools.

The province has distributed 9.1 million N95 respirator masks to school boards for staff and an additional four million three-ply masks for Ontario’s two million students.

In addition, 3,000 HEPA air filters are installed in classrooms, in addition to the 70,000 currently in schools.

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said deliveries of additional N95 and HEPA air filters are encouraging, but warned that teacher absences would be a challenge.

Realizing this, the province has given the green light for second-year student teachers to replace and retired teachers can now do 95 substitute days instead of 50.

The government is now saying that first-grade student teachers will be allowed to replace.

Last school year, some 3,400 student teachers worked in Ontario classrooms.

School boards will be able to use online learning one day per week or combine courses in the event of a staff shortage.

In order to increase vaccination rates among children aged five to 11 – given that less than half have received their first vaccine – schools are urged to organize on-site clinics before, during and after school.

Limited PCR tests will be available in schools for students and staff who show symptoms of COVID-19, continuing an initiative that began in November.

Robert Benzie is the Bureau Chief of Star’s Queen’s Park and a journalist covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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