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Ontario reveals COVID-19 school outbreak plan, including rules for student dismissals and closures

Ontario has revealed its plan to manage potential COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, which describes scenarios in which select students will be sent home and entire schools shut down as a result of positive cases.

School could be shut down if public health unit finds 'potential widespread transmission'

Most Ontario students will be heading back to class within the next two to three weeks. The province says it expects some positive COVID-19 cases to show up as that happens. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario has revealed its plan to manage potential COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, which describes scenarios in which select students will be sent home and entire schools shut down as a result of positive cases.

The strategy calls for all members of a class cohort to be sent home to self-isolate in the result of a single positive case among the group.

An entire school may also be shut down if the local public health unit finds evidence of "potential widespread transmission," such as a number of positive cases with no known source outside the school. That determination will be at the discretion of local authorities, and not dependent on a particular case count or statistical threshold.

At the province's daily news conference on Wednesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce acknowledged a difficult few months for children and offered reassurances to parents. 

"Know if your child returns to school, they will be safe," said Lecce.  

WATCH | Ontario releases its back-to-school COVID-19 outbreak management plan:

Ontario releases its back-to-school COVID-19 outbreak management plan

1 year ago
0:51
Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced highlights of the province's back-to school COVID-19 outbreak management plan at a press conference on Wednesday, ensuring that parents “will know very quickly if your child has come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.” 0:51

No mandatory testing

The guide calls for students in cohorts that have been dismissed from school to be tested "as soon as possible," though there is no requirement for mandatory COVID-19 testing.

"Each case is different, and each case needs to be approached differently," said Dr. David Williams, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health. 

Students will not be permitted to return to school if they are showing any symptoms related to COVID-19. However, they will be permitted to return to class even if they do not take a test, provided they do not develop symptoms during a 14-day self-isolation period.

Information about confirmed cases at schools will also be made available to parents and the public online, though details will be limited in order to protect the identities of COVID-19 patients.

The new provincial guide is designed to act as a resource for local public health units, which are ultimately responsible for investigating cases and making recommendations to school boards.

The document also calls for the siblings of a student with a confirmed or probable case to be sent home to self-isolate. If the sibling is later found to have a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, students in the sibling's cohort will be dismissed as well.

Federal money for Ontario schools

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more than $2 billion in funding to help provinces and territories re-open their schools and economies safely.

Ontario is set to receive $763.3 million, which Ford said will "enhance the plan that we already have." 

Province dips back below 100 daily cases

Ontario reported an additional 88 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, a slight decrease in new cases after five consecutive days in triple digits. 

As has been the predominant trends in recent days, the majority of newly confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus are concentrated in three public health units, namely Toronto, Peel and Ottawa. The regions reported 23, 22 and 16 additional cases, respectively, in today's provincial update.

The rest are spread out in the southern reaches of the province.

Twenty-nine of Ontario's 34 public health units reported five or fewer cases, while 20 of those 29 saw no new infections at all.

Ontario has now seen a total of 41,695 confirmed cases of the virus since the outbreak began in late January. Of those, around 90.8 per cent are considered resolved. Another 115 were marked resolved yesterday.

There are currently about 1,030 confirmed, active cases provincewide. 

Ontario's official COVID-19 death toll grew by two, and now sits at 2,802. A CBC News count based on data from public health units, a measure that avoids lag times in the provincial reporting system, puts the real toll at 2,836.

Meanwhile, the province's network of labs processed nearly 22,000 test samples for the novel coronavirus yesterday.

All of the figures used in this story are found in the Ministry of Health's daily update, which includes data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often avoid lag times in the provincial system.

With files from Nick Boisvert and Kate McGillivray

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