Ontario is introducing new COVID-19 safety measures at schools across the province, which still remain open during the provincial emergency brake and stay-at-home orders.

New measures to protect school communities against COVID-19 include:

- An expansion of asymptomatic testing,
- On-site confirmation of self-screening,
- Outdoor instruction when possible,
- Curriculum-linked activities for students,
- Enhanced cleaning during the April break,
- Refresher training upon return from the April break,
- Letter to parents promoting best practices for a safe April break.

Under Ontario’s plan, the expanded access to asymptomatic testing will be available for students and staff at pharmacies that offer testing, as well as 180 other assessment centres across Ontario between April 12 and 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.

"Nothing is more important than keeping Ontario's schools safe and open for students, staff and their families," said Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Ontario has announced that special education workers province-wide and education workers in the highest-risk communities will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine beginning next week. That will be followed by a roll-out for all education staff across the province as supply allows.

"That's why we are introducing additional health and safety measures to protect against COVID-19 while working hard to get our education workers vaccinated. Our students deserve a safe return to their classrooms on April 19 so that they can keep learning, and we are committed to delivering on that."

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, says schools will remain safe, and notes the medical community has been clear that keeping schools open is critical for the mental health and well-being of youth.

“I’ve been a strong advocate to keep kids in school in the previous lock-down. That was a clear victory for us in northern Ontario. I’ve been very vocal about that,” explained Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford, noting 98 percent of Ontario’s in-person learning centres remain open.

“Looking at the experience with my own children, I think it’s a tremendous source of important social interaction for kids of all ages,” adds Rickford. “Schools have proved not to be spreaders, and I think it takes some relief off of parents who are confined to their homes. Until the science suggests otherwise, I think that’s where kids need to be.”

Rickford, who also serves as the Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Indigenous Affairs and Energy, also praised the work of local school boards, staff and the Northwestern Health Unit for their quick work to handle COVID-19 cases that have been confirmed in area schools.

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

Students are asked to continue taking Ontario’s self-screening tool daily before attending class. Everyone in your household must isolate if anyone has COVID-19 symptoms or they are awaiting test results after experiencing symptoms.