First day of school across Simcoe Muskoka amid fourth COVID-19 wave

School is in session on Tuesday, with thousands of Simcoe Muskoka students back in class for the third academic year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the public and Catholic school boards, most of the student body opted to return to in-person learning for the first time since mid-April when schools were shuttered amid escalating infection rates and ICU admissions.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said the reality is that we're in the fourth wave, and the virus will be present in schools.

Ontario's education minister is touting the provinces investment in school ventilation improvements to help slow the spread of the virus.

"We have deployed standalone HEPA units into every kindergarten class, into every learning space without mechanical ventilation, and some school boards have gone even further by placing HEPA units in every classroom," Stephen Lecce stated in a release.

In August, the province announced a $25 million investment for improving school ventilation with portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters as kids gear up to return to school.

Lecce also said each school must follow a series of guidelines to prevent transmission.

"Our cautious plan is designed to minimize disruption and maximize safety — with a focus on ventilation improvements — so that your children can continue learning through the year," Lecce added.

Schools boards across the region also have several other COVID-19 protocols in place, as required by the ministry, including cohorting and masking.

On Tuesday, Ontario reported 564 new COVID-19 cases. Simcoe Muskoka logged 39.