Windsor classes move online with closing of schools Monday
Local health unit is first in the province to take such an action
Windsor-Essex public health is shutting down schools to students starting Monday, telling them to remain home and learn online for the final week before the holiday break — making it the first in the province to take such action amid a huge jump in local cases.
“Due to the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in Windsor and Essex County and the evidence of ongoing community transmission, I am issuing a Section 22 order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act that requires all elementary and secondary school students to transition to online/remote learning effective Monday, December 14,” Dr. Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, said in a statement.
This order “will be in place for one week from December 14 to 18, which will bring students into the school holiday break” and could be extended, he added. It means students will learn online next week, and return to school on Jan. 4.
Schools, however, will remain open for teachers and staff, as well as child-care centres.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has seen cases per 100,000 people rise 20 per cent in the last two weeks to 98 — one of the highest in the province — and has reported more than 200 new infections in the last two days alone. There are two school outbreaks, two in the community, seven in nursing and retirement homes and 11 in workplaces.
The Windsor health unit said seven schools have been impacted with cases stemming from an outbreak at a sports club.
The news comes as Ontario is reporting an additional 139 cases in public schools across the province, bringing the total in the last two weeks to 1,659 and 6,059 overall since school began. Some 10 schools were closed because of an outbreak, one less than the day before. The data doesn’t indicate where they are.
Epidemiologists have told the Star that rising numbers in schools aren’t a surprise, and that cases will be proportionate to the amount of COVID in the community.
The move by Windsor, which is in a “red” COVID-19 zone, will almost certainly put pressure on public health units in the lockdown zones of Toronto and Peel to consider a similar move. But spokespersons for the Toronto and Peel public and Catholic school boards said they were not aware of any such plans.
The Greater Essex County District School Board said in a statement that “the health unit has been clear that this action was not taken because schools are not safe, it is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 cases occurring in the community.”
In Windsor-Essex, there have been a total of 109 COVID cases in schools in the three area boards, and more than 80 per cent of schools currently do not have any active cases.
Ontario’s medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said Thursday that provincewide, school transmission is low and cases tend to be linked to family contact.
However, he said given the rising cases, more cases are making their way into school “and we certainly don’t want to go into a case where we are seeing widespread transmission in schools” as has happened in a couple of Windsor schools, which the public health unit is trying to prevent from happening again.
Ahmed “has seen that and he doesn’t want to add to his issues and challenges,” Williams also said.
Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health in Toronto, said “we are carefully monitoring our local circumstances and make recommendations informed on our data and public health responses to reduce COVID-19 spread, save lives and keep residents safe.”
Education unions in the York Region District School Board issued an open letter Thursday calling for an expansion of a provincial asymptomatic testing program “to every school in York Region beginning with those currently experiencing high numbers of cases or consistently seeing cases.”
On Wednesday, the unions in the Toronto District School Board asked for asymptomatic testing in schools “across the city on a regular and ongoing basis” as well as for online learning only for the first two weeks in January “in order to ensure schools do not contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the post-holiday period.”