Toronto education workers call for expansion of asymptomatic COVID-19 test pilot

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Toronto education workers call for expansion of an asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program that has revealed outbreaks in local schools, as well as a delayed return to classroom learning over the new Year.
In an open letter to provincial ministers of health and education, as well as public health officials in Toronto, a group of education union representatives said the program should be rolled out to all schools from the city.

“Teachers, education workers and families deserve to have a factual understanding of the real health of schools,” read the letter sent Wednesday by union representatives to teachers and education workers in Toronto.

The four-week voluntary testing program started at the end of last month for asymptomatic students, faculty and staff at some schools in Toronto, Peel and York regions and Ottawa.

An outbreak involving more than 20 cases was discovered at Thorncliffe Park Public School in Toronto, the first school where the program was rolled out.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the Thorncliffe Park results were a sign the program was doing what it was supposed to do.

Lecce also said the province will step up its COVID-19 safety program when all children return to school after winter break. This will allow students to receive a reminder about pandemic safety measures after the class break, he said.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the Thorncliffe Park results were a sign the program was doing what it was supposed to do. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

A spokeswoman for Lecce said on Thursday that statistics indicate that four out of five schools in the province do not have cases of COVID-19.

“Our government believes it is very important for our students to continue to go to school,” said Caitlin Clark. “The best medical experts have made it clear that cases generally do not spread within our schools – the risk remains in our community. ”

Lecce last week said the province would analyze the test pilot’s results before deciding on its future.

Wednesday’s letter said that regular asymptomatic testing would assess the prevalence of the virus in schools.

He also calls on schools to switch to online learning for at least two weeks after the holidays to limit the spread of COVID-19. The authors argue that this break would provide time to set up an expanded testing program.

The government previously envisioned an extended winter break or the start of the new year with an e-learning period, but decided not to do so last month. He said the province’s COVID-19 protocols for schools were sufficient to keep children safe.

The groups that drafted the letter argued that Premier Doug Ford’s government failed to provide adequate funding to reduce class sizes in elementary schools or improve air systems.

Students, parents and teachers failing in Ontario, according to FEESO

Similar concerns were expressed on Wednesday in an open letter from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which said Ontario’s COVID-19 education plans were “failing students, parents , educators and communities ”.

“The education system in Ontario is teetering under the weight of COVID-19, despite the exceptional efforts of education workers and teachers,” said FEESO President Harvey Bischof in a letter calling for more funding for schools.

Bischof said the union was not calling for schools to be closed, but wanted the government to change course on its current plan.

The province reported 139 new school-related COVID-19 cases on Thursday, including at least 111 among students.

This brings the number of schools reporting a case to 878 of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.

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