Students in Windsor-Essex return to the classroom

Students in Windsor-Essex are returning to school for the first time in 2021.

Medical officer of health says safety of students is top priority

Students in Windsor-Essex have been learning from home since the week before the holiday break. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Students in Windsor-Essex are returning to school for the first time in 2021 on Monday.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Wajid Ahmed, who supports the return to in-classroom learning, said his primary concern is keeping children safe.

"We know that we have seen in our region many cases of COVID-19 and definitely we don't want to see any of those cases turning back into the school and putting our kids at risk," he told host Tony Doucette on CBC Radio's Windsor Morning on Monday.

Students have been learning from home since the week before the holiday break, after a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in the region. Ahmed used his authority as medical officer of health to shut down schools prior to the province implementing its own order.

On Wednesday, the province announced that schools in Windsor-Essex would be allowed to resume in-person learning.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is taking a number of steps to enhance safety in schools, such as more stringent screening for high schoolers and asymptomatic testing across the province.

The tests won't be available to anyone who would like one if they don't have symptoms, Ahmed explained, but public health has the ability to recommend wider testing in schools if the need arises.

"The province is making it easier, they have contracted third-party people who can go in and do the testing if it's needed in any of the schools in Ontario," he said.

The return to school comes amid a decline in COVID-19 cases locally. The active case count has dipped below 400 from a peak of about 2,800 in mid-January. Just 40 new infections were announced over the weekend.

But even as cases began to fall starting last month, the death toll has soared. More COVID-19 deaths were recorded in Windsor-Essex in January than in all of 2020. Overall, there have been 343 deaths from COVID-19 in the region.

Meanwhile, people across the province are expected to hear more about what COVID-19 restrictions will look like in the short term on Monday.

Premier Doug Ford is set to make an announcement at 1 p.m. It comes about three weeks after a province-wide stay-at-home order took effect.

A senior government source told The Canadian Press that Ford will allow the current state of emergency to expire on schedule Tuesday. But a stay-at-home order will remain in effect as regions transition back to Ontario's colour-coded system of restrictions over the next three weeks, the source said.

Ahmed said he hadn't heard anything from the province about what the update could mean for the region.

He previously has said the region met the criteria for the red zone of restrictions, one tier lower than the current lockdown, but that didn't necessarily mean that restrictions would be loosened.

With files from The Canadian Press and CBC Toronto


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