Number of active infections associated with Ontario's public schools is now higher than it has been at any point this year

The number of active cases of COVID-19 associated with Ontario’s public schools is now higher than it has been at any point this year, underscoring the urgency of the vaccine rollout for children aged five to 11.

The Ministry of Education says that there were another 320 school-related cases of COVID-19 reported over a three-day period ending Monday afternoon, including 279 amongst students.

It is the highest weekend total since classes resumed and pushes the total number of active infections associated with Ontario’s public school system to 1,655.

That is up approximately 21 per cent from this time last week when there were 1,357 active infections associated with schools.

The latest figures come as Ontario accelerates its efforts to get shots into the arms of school-aged children who only became eligible to be vaccinated on Nov. 19.

Speaking with reporters during a briefing on Tuesday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said that a total of 21,536 newly eligible children have already gotten their first dose with thousands more booked to get a shot in the coming days.

“That's 10 per cent of all kids aged five to 11 in our city so this is a super start with much more work to do,” he said.

Nearly 200 school outbreaks

School-related cases of COVID-19 declined through much of October but have now been steadily rising for weeks, in lockstep with the growth in case counts in the broader community.

According to the latest data there are now 196 Ontario schools with active COVID-19 outbreaks, including 182 elementary schools.

The last time the number of school outbreaks was that high it was April, 2020 and the Ontario government had just ordered that in-person learning be suspended amid a devastating third wave of the pandemic.

Of course, back then Health Canada was still months away from even approving the vaccine for use in children 12 and up, making schools particularly vulnerable.

This time around public health officials have insisted that they intend to keep schools open, while warning that case counts will likely continue to rise throughout December

"This is the time of year where we expect an increase (in cases) and sadly yes we'll see increased cases in school settings, especially the elementary level where they haven't had the benefit of vaccine," chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said during a briefing last week. "The silver lining, though, is that we now have the vaccine (for children aged five to 11). So for parents, I think one of the key motivators to get your child vaccinated is the decrease in risk at the school setting, the social setting or in the home setting because the vaccine is very powerful at preventing infection, around 90.7 per cent protection against symptomatic COVID-19 in the randomized clinical control trials.”

There have been a total of 7,560 school-related cases of COVID-19 confirmed to date

During the 2020-2021 school year it took until February to reach that number.

The number of schools with active cases is also steadily rising and now stands at 749, accounting for more than 15 per cent of public schools. A dozen of those schools are closed, down four since yesterday.

There are also at least 138 individual classroom cohorts that have been switched to remote learning in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area following positive cases, though that number is likely an underrepresentation as only some boards publicly report the data.