Ontario promises asymptomatic COVID-19 tests for students and staff during April break

Grade two teacher Vivian Mavraidis looks out into the hallways at Hunter's Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Monday, September 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce provided a few more details Wednesday into the “elevated” infection prevention and control measures the government will implement to ensure student safety amid a shutdown, including asymptomatic testing during the April spring break.

The provincial government has repeatedly promised further safety measures at schools while keeping the facilities open to in-person learning amid a shutdown, and now a stay-at-home order.

However, that promise came with few details until Wednesday afternoon, when Lecce held a news conference following the province’s declaration of state of emergency.

Lecce said that the following measures will be implemented during the April spring break, or the week of April 12.

The first measure was asymptomatic COVID-19 testing of all teachers, students and parents who want it at pharmacies and assessment centres.

“Before that didn't exist,” Lecce said. “You had to be symptomatic to go to an assessment center.”

The asymptomatic testing is only available from April 12 to April 18.

The province will also be “providing and mandating onsite confirmation for self-screening of students and staff’ at all schools in Ontario. Outdoor education will be encouraged “where it is possible.”

“We know it has helped us in the fall,” Lecce said. “We're really strongly urging as much education, experiential outside in our parks, in our playgrounds to make this learning process positive and safe.”

Schools will also undergo “enhanced cleaning” before students return to class from the April break and when students and staff do return, they will have to take part in “refresher training” on safety protocols.

The new measures come after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that education workers who provide daily support to students with special education needs would be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as of April 12.

Education workers will also be eligible if they work in high-priority neighbourhoods in Toronto and Peel Region.

Schools in Toronto, Peel Region and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph were closed by local public health units this week ahead of the April spring break as COVID-19 cases in those areas surged.

On Wednesday alone, 713 COVID-19 cases were reported in Ontario schools. According to provincial data, a little more than 26 per cent of schools have a reported case of the novel coronavirus.