Toronto

Ontario to shut down publicly funded schools for 2 weeks after March Break over COVID-19 concerns

The Ontario government is closing all publicly funded schools across the province for two weeks following March Break due to concerns about COVID-19.

All publicly funded schools will close from March 14 to April 5

Ontario has opted to close all publicly funded schools for two weeks following March Break amid concerns over COVID-19. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

The Ontario government is closing all publicly funded schools across the province for two weeks following March Break due to concerns about COVID-19.

Doug Ford's government said in a statement the move is "necessary to keep people safe" and based on the advice of Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health.

Schools will be closed from March 14 to April 5.

"We recognize the significant impact this decision will have on families, students, schools, as well as the broader community, but this precaution is necessary to keep people safe," the premier's office said in a statement.

In an earlier news conference, Ontario health officials stopped short of discouraging people from travelling during March Break, but did ask anyone returning from travel to avoid public or group gatherings and to monitor themselves for symptoms.

Speaking Thursday afternoon, Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters that following the two-week period, the province will evaluate to see what other measures might be required. 

"As we head into March Break, it is clear there will be an increased travel and exposure to the virus to families. I want every parent and family to know with confidence that when their child returns to school, they will be safe," Lecce said.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says that following the two-week period, the province will evaluate to see what other measures might be required. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In the meantime, the province will be providing schools with extra sanitation resources and personal hygiene products, he said. 

Lecce also said a plan is being finalized to ensure learning continues during this period, but did not provide specifics, saying announcements will be made in the coming days. He did not say whether those plans might entail e-learning programming or if the school year might be extended.

The extended break will not apply to daycares in schools, a spokesperson for Lecce said, though individual school boards may decide to close them. It's not yet clear how other school-based programs or school functions might be affected.

Daycares in the province, however, are being encouraged to screen for the virus by asking parents if their child is unwell and if they have travelled in the last 14 days. Williams recommends that if the answer to either of those questions is yes, daycares should ask parents to keep their children at home for 14 days.

Ontario has 60 cases of COVID-19, with 18 cases, including one infant, being confirmed earlier today.

now