What's what: Ontario's comprehensive COVID-19 response plan for schools

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Earlier today, the Ontario government launched a new voluntary interactive screening tool to assist parents, students and staff with the daily assessment of COVID-19 symptoms and risk factors required before attending school. The results will let parents, students, and other educational staff know whether they should attend school each day—or guide at-risk individuals to proper resources.

Details were provided today by Premier Doug Ford, Deputy Premier Elliott, the Minister of Health, Education, and Peter Bethlenfalvy, President of the Treasury Board.

"We are doing everything we can to keep students and staff safe, and that includes this new screening tool which will help people protect themselves and others from COVID-19," said Premier Ford. "It's everyone's responsibility to screen themselves or their child for symptoms before going to school. If you're sick or someone in your household is sick, even with mild symptoms, please stay home."

Ontario’s government prioritizes student safety with new prevention tool

This tool is another preventional layer that the province will use to protect students' health and safety, staff, and the communities where they live and work. Other tools include Ontario's self-assessment tool, which helps people check whether they have symptoms of COVID-19, and the COVID Alert app, which lets people know if they've been exposed to COVID-19—and to alert others if they test positive.

The new easy-to-use tool is available for all parents, students, and staff to help screen for illness symptoms every day. Users will respond to a clinician-informed symptom and risk questions, and the tool will then immediately inform users whether it is safe to attend a school that day. The tool protects privacy and does not collect any personal health information and was developed in house by the Ontario Digital Service at no additional cost to taxpayers.

"Our government is taking every preventive action to safely reopen our schools, including the introduction of Ontario's new COVID-19 screening tool for students and staff," said Minister Lecce. "We have made tremendous progress as a province, which is why we must continue to heighten our vigilance by stepping up screening of each student and staff member before they enter our schools."

Ontario’s comprehensive back-to-school plan includes $1.3 billion in COVID-19 resources

This summer, Ontario also unveiled the nation's most comprehensive plan for the safe reopening of schools in September. The province committed $1.3 billion in COVID-19 resources available to school boards to support the COVID-19 outbreak, which includes $381 million in federal funding to support provincial back-to-school plans and an additional $50 million in provincial funding for air quality and ventilation in schools.

The funding will allow school boards to hire more teachers, increase physical distancing, purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), enhance cleaning of schools and school buses, improve ventilation, hire more custodians, and add more school leadership positions and administrative support for virtual schools. The province has also established a mandatory masking policy for Grades 4-12, and a robust surveillance and testing strategy to ensure a triumphant return to classrooms.

For September, the government has delivered over 37 million pieces of PPE to Ontario's 72 school boards and ten education authorities, including more than 19.5 million masks, 16 million gloves, 317,000 face shields, 320,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, and 218,000 containers of disinfectant, among other critical supplies.

Other supports include rapid-response nurses, website, and public health guide

In addition, local public health units have filled over 530 nursing positions, or 85 percent, of the additional 625 nursing positions created to help keep students and staff safe. The nurses will be providing rapid-response support to schools and school boards in facilitating public health and preventative measures, including screening, testing, tracing and mitigation strategies. To ensure that schools are supported by the start of the school year, several public health units have temporarily redeployed existing nurses while recruitment activities continue.

As part of Ontario's commitment to transparency and partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Ontario Digital Service, the Ministry of Education has also launched a webpage to report COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres. This page will be updated every weekday with the most up-to-date COVID-19 information available, including a summary of cases in schools and licensed child care centres and agencies. This vital resource will help parents and guardians know whether a COVID-19 case has been confirmed at their children's school, and where the numbers come from.

"As students across the province return to school, it's more important than ever that we provide families with the tools and information they need to stay safe and healthy," said Minister Bethlenfalvy. "Throughout the pandemic, our government has worked swiftly to leverage technology and innovation that puts vital programs and services at your fingertips. This tool is another example of how we're building a government that works for you."

The government also released the Operational Guidance: COVID-19 Management in Schools, a guide developed in consultation with public health experts, including Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, in an attempt to help schools identify and isolate COVID-19 cases, reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and prevent and minimize outbreaks.

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