Students and staff are set to return to school on Monday (January 17, 2022), with the promise by the provincial government to be kept everyone safe with additional personal protective equipment (PPE).

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education laid out the return to school plan on Wednesday that included distributing more masks, rapid antigen test kits, and high-efficiency particulate arrestance filters.

Alison Smith, the Superintendent of Business Services for the Kenora Catholic District School Board (KCDSB), said they have received at least the promised N95 masks.

“To date, we have received all of our N95 masks, we’ve actually received 14,000 of them. This allows staff to have the option for N95 masks and they have already been delivered to all of our schools. Those are available for staff when they return,” Smith said.

Lecce outlined in his rollout that the province is expected to distribute over nine million masks to schools.

Schools will also be receiving rapid antigen COVID-19 test kits for students, and staff use. Two tests will be given to each student and staff members to use when feeling symptomatic, who will be required to take two rapid tests 24 hours apart, and upon negative results can return to class.

“What we’ve been told is that the rapid tests have been sent out this week. We haven’t received them yet but when we do receive them they will be sent to the schools immediately.”

The KCDSB is expected to receive around 2,700 rapid test kits.

The province has also made the improvement of school ventilation systems a priority for Monday’s reopen date.

It’s expected that an additional 3,000 HEPA units are on their way will be split up between all publicly funded schools in the province.

The KCDSB has yet to receive its promised HEPA units. Though the school board has met the ventilation requirements for the return to school, Smith said their plan is to distribute the units for schools to use in areas where they see fit.

To date, the school board has not implemented additional health measures beyond the provincial health measures. The measures include masking, good hand hygiene, enhanced cleaning protocols, and the daily self-screening tool to name a few.

Smith concluded by saying that schools opening to in-person is a huge benefit to not only the children but to parents as well.

In addition to more protective equipment, the schools are mobilizing school-based vaccination clinics for students. In the coming days, parents will receive a form offering the opportunity to safely and conveniently provide public health units the authority to vaccinate their child at a school-based vaccine clinic.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, included in Wednesday’s announcement the province will be changing its case and contact method when it comes to COVID-19 outbreaks in schools. 

Moore explained that school boards will notify parents and work with the local public health unit when school absence rates reach 30 per cent. 

Current vaccination rates among children aged 12 to 17 years old are 82 per cent having received two doses. Of children aged five to 11 years old, nearly 50 per cent have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.