Students and staff members at local schools can look forward to this week’s April Break, but they’re being warned to not gather over their week off.

Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young-Hoon, continues to ask residents across the region to make informed choices and choose lower-risk activities and settings, especially as students are set to return to the classroom next Monday.

“During the school break, I urge the public to not gather with other families for play-dates. We must follow the stay-at-home order rules. COVID-19 is most likely to spread through close contact with others, and you’re putting your loved ones at risk by getting together with others.”

Young Hoon and health unit staff are continuing to ask all residents to only go out for essential reasons, such as work, school, essential shopping, healthcare or exercise, as we continue on into the third wave of the pandemic.

“Hospitals in the province are being overwhelmed. There’s been an increase in young people in intensive care units. The variants of concern spread quickly and can affect many people.”

As of April 9, Ontario has reported a total of 14,686 COVID-19 cases in schools across the province, with 2,618 cases being announced in the previous two weeks. Overall, 4,828 of Ontario’s schools have reported at least one case of the virus, and 69 schools have been closed.

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.

This year’s March break was postponed to the week of April 12 due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns. Between April 12 and 18, Ontario is offering asymptomatic testing for all students and staff at pharmacies that offer COVID-19 testing as well as assessment centres.

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.

Other new measures announced to protect schools after the break include:

- 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.

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in contact with a positive case is asked to 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.