Today, Ontario has reported 3814 hospitalizations across the province of people who are COVID-19 positive, as well as 527 people in ICUs. Ontario reported an additional 41 new COVID-19 related deaths, and there are now 288 people on ventilators because of the virus in Ontario.
As we move into another weekend, I want to encourage everyone to continue to stay safe, wear an effective mask, and get vaccinated. It’s vital that we continue to follow the best guidance that we’re getting from our public health officials. We need to slow impact of this Omicron variant, so that our health care system is not overwhelmed in the coming weeks.
Coming up on the other side of the weekend, students and staff will be going back to school in-person.
Along with my Ontario NDP colleagues, I’ve been calling for schools to open. We know that we need a return to safe, in-person learning for the sake of our kids’ wellbeing.
The Ontario NDP has repeatedly put forward proposals to ensure that schools can reopen safely and stay that way. Some of our proposals have been adopted or partially adopted, but Ontario could be doing so much more to make schools safe and keep them open. We are calling on the government to ensure families have the information they need and the certainty that their child’s school is safe, that education workers have the protections they need to stay safe on the job and that school boards are given the resources to keep schools safely open.
We continue to call for:
- A vaccine blitz for students with in-school clinics, requiring permission from parents, and an outreach campaign including culturally-relevant materials
- Mandatory vaccination for all teachers and education workers
- Reduced class sizes and school busloads
- Free rapid tests for all students, teachers and education staff
- Access to PCR tests again
- Reporting of COVID cases in schools
- Improved ventilation in all schools and regular on-site air quality testing
- Free N95 masks for all teachers and education workers
- Support for teachers and staff to help address critical learning gaps caused by previous shutdowns
We know the mixed messages and unanswered questions from the Ford government is frustrating for families, teachers, students and education workers.
Here is some more information from the government announcement:
With vaccination of children 5-11 lagging behind at only 47% in this age group having received their first shot, the government has encouraged school boards to work with local public health units to expand in-school vaccination clinics, including during the school day.
Masks and ventilation
After many months of requests, the government also announced it was sending an additional supply of masks to school boards. Education workers will have the option of using a non-fit-tested N95 mask and new 3-ply cloth masks will be provided to boards for students. 3000 additional HEPA filter units are in the process of being distributed to classrooms. Not all school boards have received these materials yet.
Testing and Reporting
As of January 17, school boards should have a sufficient supply of rapid tests to make two tests available for all in-person elementary students, and all school board staff who come into contact with students. School boards will also receive a supply of rapid antigen tests for distribution to secondary students, with additional rapid tests being delivered later.
These tests are to be used alongside a revised symptom screener (https://covid-19.ontario.ca/school-screening/)
Alarmingly, school boards will only be required to report COVID-19 outbreaks to public health units when at least 30% of students and staff are absent. The Ministry will no longer require class cohorts to be notified of an exposure in their class. The NDP has decried this move and has called for more transparency and reporting of cases so that parents are fully aware of risks in their child’s classroom.
Local Public Health Units and school boards may develop their own approaches to reporting that go above and beyond those required by the ministry.
In response to what’s happening right now in our schools, tomorrow afternoon I’ll be making calls for an Education Day of Action for Safer Schools. We’ll be making calls from 1 to 3PM, and if you’re interested in joining in – you can RSVP here.
It’s not just our education system that needs more help, many critical sectors in Ontario have been shorted by the Ford government. This week, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Cathryn Hoy, the President of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), held a joint press conference where they showcased the need for 22,000 nurses to be hired in Ontario.
Nurses in our province have been working endlessly for years now and were short staffed even before the pandemic. Because of years of cuts, and funding freezes, nurses in Ontario have suffered.
I’ve spent many hours at rallies with nurses right here in our community, who need more supports. I’ve heard directly from them that Bill 124 must be repealed – which is something I’ve fought for at Queen’s Park.
There is a clear path forward to improving the lives of nurses in Ontario and here is our plan to get it done.
- Repeal Ford’s low-wage law, Bill 124
- Making more nursing positions full-time instead of part-time or temporary
- Keep existing nurses and health-care workers by improving their working conditions – end team nursing, and have proper skill mix
- Create new jobs for late-career and recently-retired nurses to mentor and support
- Provide free, in-person mental health supports for all frontline health care workers
- Provide 10 permanent paid sick days, plus 14 during a pandemic
- Provide full access to PPE, including N95 masks, all the time
- Mandate a minimum four hours of hands-on care by nurses and PSWs for every nursing home resident now
- Fund more university seats for nursing programs and fix issues with clinical placements
Next, I’m excited to be able to share with our community a new initiative from Ontario Creates, who have launched their AcceleratiON program. This program is an entrepreneurship initiative for Black-owned and Indigenous-owned music businesses. It sounds like a great program, and if you’re interested in learning more and/or applying click here.
Finally, in the past couple hours I’ve become aware that a pedestrian was hit by a car today at the Christie and Tyrell crosswalk. Thankfully, reports from the community indicate that the pedestrian has not suffered serious injuries in this incident, but regardless I want to encourage everyone out there to be careful on our streets.