A combined multi-million dollar investment from the provincial and federal governments will aim to keep students in northwestern Ontario as safe as possible from COVID-19.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna and provincial Minister of Infrastructure Laurie Scott announced the combined $656.5 million investment on April 14.

Leaders say the funding will support ventilation projects to improve air quality in classrooms, new water bottle refilling stations, network and broadband infrastructure improvements to support remote learning, and new walls and doors to enhance physical distancing spaces within schools.

"Ontario’s government is focused on protecting the lives of students, staff, and their families,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce, in a prepared statement.

He notes since the start of the pandemic, the Ontario government has invested more than $1.6 billion to protect students, staff and families from COVID-19.

“We put a plan into action that leads the nation – delivering air ventilation improvements to over 95 percent of schools, 7,000 additional staff, and improved cleaning, testing and stronger screening. We have prioritized education staff in high priority communities and all special education staff across the province, and will expand to all staff as supply becomes available."

Funding amounts for local school boards include:

- Keewatin-Patricia District School Board - $1,252,000
- Rainy River District School Board - $2,068,000
- Northwest Catholic District School Board - $166,000
- Kenora Catholic District School Board - $137,140
- Conseil scolaire de district catholique des Aurores boréales - $374,500

$131.3 million of the $656 million in funding will come from the provincial government, while the federal government will contribute the remaining $525 million through the COVID-19 Resilience stream of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.

“The safety and security of our children in schools are paramount,” said Greg Rickford, MPP for Kenora–Rainy River.

“That’s why our government is working with the Federal government to invest over $3.6 million dollars to ensure that school infrastructure in Kenora–Rainy River is up-to-date and improved to protect our students and teachers now and into the future.”

As it stands, students currently aren’t expected to return to their classrooms this school year, unless otherwise announced by the provincial government. Ontario Premier Doug Ford made that announcement earlier this week.

On April 8, four days prior to Ford’s announcement, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, said schools remain safe, and Ontario’s medical community has been clear that keeping schools open is critical for the mental health and well-being of youth.

During the closure of schools, Ontario says childcare for non-school-aged children will remain open, but before and after school programs will be closed. Emergency childcare for eligible healthcare and frontline workers will be provided.

Expanded access to asymptomatic testing is available for students and staff at pharmacies that offer testing, as well as 180 other assessment centres across Ontario until April 18.

Pharmacies that offer testing in northwestern Ontario include the No Frills Pharmacy in Kenora, Shoppers Drug Mart in Dryden and the Pharmasave in Fort Frances.

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in contact with a positive case of the virus is asked to self-isolate, get tested and remain in isolation until your test results are known.