Ontario students won't be returning to class this week afterall. After announcing last week that students would be returning to class on Wendesday, the Ford government has beat a hasty retreat after coming under fire from the teacher unions and parents.
Pointing to the escalating number of Omicron cases in the province, Ford announced earlier today that students won't returning returning to class until Jan 17 at the earliest and even that date isn't set in stone.
Prior to the holiday break, there had been 2,607 cases reported among students in 1,097 schools across the province, prompting 24 school closures.
According to the provincial coronavirus dashboard, there were 78 student cases in Orléans alone, in 21 different schools.
Due to the escalating number of Omicron cases in the past three weeks, many parents had been anticipating that the schools would remained closed until the current wave passes, but data showing the Omicron variant is less severe in terms of symptoms and hospitalizations, especially among young people and the vaccinated, prompted the provincial government initially impose a 48-hour delay in the resumption of classes.
The government planned to use that time to ensure that classrooms are properly vaccinated and that the schools have a full supply of face masks, which are mandatory in all classes. Now they have an extra two weeks.
Ford also announced a set of sweeping new restrictions that include closing restaurants, bars and gyms; reducing capacity at retail stores, malls and personal care services to 50 per cent; and limiting private indoor gatherings to just five pople.
According to the most recent figures, the number of hospitalizations in relation to the number of cases are much lower during the current wave than in the past.
As an example, the seven-day average number of cases in April 2021 was 320, with 124 hospitalizations. By the end of last week, the seven day average number of cases in Ottawa was 509 and rising, but only 13 people were being treated in hospital, none of whom were under the age of 18.
Another key factor in the province’s decision is the vaccination rate among the student population. As of December 29, 93 per cent of youth age 12 to 19 had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 89 per cent had received two doses.
Despite the fact that children under the age of 12 have only been able to get vaccinated for the past four weeks, some 60 per cent in that age group have received their first shot and they will soon be able to get their second dose.
The current advice being given by Ottawa Public Health for residents experiencing possible symptoms of COVID is to self-isolate at home unless the symptoms turn more severe, namely shortness of breath or a high fever.
Due to a recent run on tests, current testing is being reserved for residents of long-term care homes; front-line workers, including medical staff; and those exper-iencing moderate to severe symptoms.
Members of the general public with mild symptoms are being asked not to seek testing. In addition, most people with a positive result from a rapid PCR test are no longer being encouraged to take a subsequent laboratory PCR test for confirmation. Instead, they are being told to self-isolate at home.
The isolation protocol has also changed. Fully vaccinated individuals, as well as children under 12, are now only required to self-isolate for five days following the onset of symptoms. They can end their self-isolation after the five-day period if their symptoms are improved for at least 24 hours.
Those who are unvaccinated, or partially vaccinated, or immunocompromised are required to isolate for 10 days. That is a change from the previous protocol requiring a 14-day isolation period.