Ontario will not reopen elementary schools in southern Ontario on Monday as initially planned.
"At this moment, we should not open up in-class. We should be careful," Dr. David Williams said Thursday schools would remain closed for at least another two weeks until Jan. 25.
The news comes as the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) logs a rise in COVID-19 cases among children under 17.
Since Jan. 1, the health unit has listed nearly 60 cases among children, more than half of whom contracted the virus from a close contact. The SMDHU says most cases recover without complications.
Dr. Williams said parents should take the extended time to refocus and keep children home as much as possible to get students back to in-class learning.
"We feel our schools are necessary," Dr. Williams noted.
All students are currently learning online as part of a provincial lockdown, but those in northern Ontario and elementary students in southern Ontario were set to return to schools next week.
While schools in Simcoe Muskoka remain closed, those in the northern part of the province will reopen.
Schools located in the following public health unit regions will resume in-person class on Monday because transmission remains low for both elementary and secondary students:
- North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit
- Northwestern Health Unit
- Sudbury and District Health Unit
- Porcupine Health Unit
- The District of Algoma Health Unit
- Thunder Bay District Health Unit
- Timiskaming Health Unit
High school students in southern Ontario are set to continue online learning until Jan. 25.
Ford defended his government's plan for schools, stressing that it had been working and that the virus is being transmitted in the community and through family gatherings.
The province-wide lockdown is in place until at least Jan. 23.
Meanwhile, the SMDHU reports 52 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, plus an additional death.
The health unit says the most recent death was a Midland man between 65 and 79 who passed away at his home after becoming infected with COVID-19.
The health unit lists 1,188 active cases across Simcoe Muskoka, including 25 people hospitalized with the infection.
There have been 443 cases reported this week, a grim new weekly record for the region.
Ontario logged 3,519 new COVID-19 cases and 89 more deaths Thursday, both new records for the province. Dr. Williams said "Our community transmission is the highest ever," about the soaring case numbers.