Ontario is accelerating booster shots for school and child-care staff to protect children, staff and families from COVID-19.
In a statement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said starting Friday, child-care and school staff in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area will have “planned access to vaccines” at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont.
The clinic, he said, will support priority booking for education staff, including educators, custodial staff, administrative staff, school bus drivers and child-care staff.
“Throughout this pandemic, critical staff on the frontlines have continued to carry out their work — from nurses, to personal support workers, to grocery workers and pharmacists — so that we can protect our communities,” Lecce said.
“We owe it to them to ensure their children are cared for during this period, which is why our government is once again providing these frontline and critical workers with free emergency child care for their school-aged children. We thank education and child care staff, operators, and all Ontario families for their hard work, vigilance and kindness through this incredibly difficult time.”
In the statement, the minister said the government will work with all other public health units to set up more clinics across Ontario, “in addition to existing vaccine clinics with dedicated access for education and child care staff.”
The government said it’s also providing optional non-fit-tested N95 masks to all child-care staff and updating screening requirements to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
The province is also providing eligible front-line workers with free emergency child care for their school-aged children.’
The news come as the province moves to prioritize rapid tests for priority sectors and modifies the isolation period for people with COVID symptoms.
Provincial officials said Thursday that people who develop symptoms can resume their regular activities sooner than the required five days — the new isolation period for fully vaccinated people and kids under 12 — if two rapid tests taken at least 24 hours apart come back negative, and if their symptoms improve for 24 hours.
It’s still recommended that people who are sick stay home until symptoms improve.
The province also laid out its broad plans for the increased supply of at least 54.3 million rapid tests expected from the federal government this month, on top of another 85 million tests purchased provincially.
With rapid test demand predicted to rise to 18 million tests weekly — and the gold-standard PCR tests restricted to people considered at the highest risk — the province said it will need to keep prioritizing rapid tests for high-risk sectors like hospitals, long-term care homes and for jobs with vaccine-or-test mandates.
Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s top doctor, advised that people would have to go without a test confirming their diagnosis if they develop COVID-19 symptoms, noting that few other viruses are currently circulating to account for common symptoms like congestion, fatigue, headache or muscle aches.
“Right now, given the high community prevalence of COVID-19, testing is a luxury,” Moore told a Thursday news conference.
“The vast majority of Ontarians will be able to stay at home, to take a Tylenol or ibuprofen or fluids to help us get over our symptoms.”
He said every Ontarian should be monitoring for symptoms as the Omicron variant continues to drive spread.
He added that the province is “fortunate” that Omicron appears to result in more mild illness on an individual level, but it’s causing strain on the health system due to the variant’s transmissibility, which is pushing infections up to record levels.
Meanwhile, rapid tests are being reserved for test-to-work plans so people can resume work sooner after an exposure, regular testing of workers in high-risk jobs and for people with symptoms who aren’t eligible for PCR tests.
Supply will go first to settings like long-term care homes, hospitals, shelters and Indigenous communities, with further supply for some education settings and workplaces with vaccinate-or-test mandates.
More than two million rapid tests were distributed to the public for free starting in the month of December, with supply snapped up quickly as pop-up sites in malls, transit hubs and liquor stores drew long lines.
That initiative won’t continue as the province rations its rapid test supply for key sectors. People can pay to access rapid tests in pharmacies or buy them from some retailers or producers, however.
With files from the Canadian Press
COVID-19 in Ontario
Ontario is reporting 13,339 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths Thursday as the Omicron wave continues to sweep across the province.
There are now 135,313 active cases, with another 12,036 cases resolved in the past 24 hours.
Of Ontario’s new cases, 2,691 are in those who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or whose status is unknown, while there are 10,648 new “breakthrough” cases in people who are fully vaccinated with at least two doses.
That ratio shifts dramatically when it comes to severe cases and hospitalization rates.
There are currently 2,279 patients in Ontario hospitals, and about half are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or status unknown.
There are another 319 patients in critical care units and, of those, 232 are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or status unknown.
Ontario completed 59,241 COVID-19 tests at a 29.2 per cent positivity rate.
As of Dec. 31, Ontario restricted access to PCR tests to high-risk individuals who are symptomatic and/or are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, frontline workers, residents in high-risk settings and other vulnerable populations. As a result, the true number of infections is likely higher than what is reported.
There were 2,645 cases confirmed in Toronto, 1,500 in Peel and 1,238 in York.
In surrounding regions, there were 293 cases in the Eastern Ontario public health unit, 161 in Kingston, 54 in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark and 27 in Renfrew County.
The change in testing criteria has also likely impacted the accuracy of several key indicators. The virus reproduction rate, which measures the rate of community spread, currently has a R(t) weekly average value of 1.62.
Ontario administered 195,005 vaccine doses Wednesday and has now administered 27,945,958 total doses. That includes 4,232,672 third doses, and represents 87.4 per cent of the eligible (5-plus) population with at least one dose and 81.7 per cent with two doses.
There have now been 841,371 total cases since the outset of the pandemic and the province’s death toll is 10,272.
The Ontario government is expected to provide an update Thursday on the deployment of rapid antigen COVID-19 tests in the province.
The update comes a day after the federal government said it will distribute 140 million rapid tests across the country this month — four times the amount handed out in December.
On Wednesday, a number of stricter health measures — including widespread business closures and a temporary return to online schooling — took effect in Ontario.
The province has also directed hospitals to pause non-urgent surgeries due to skyrocketing COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
As well, a group of hospitals in the province urged pregnant people to get vaccinated against the virus, pointing to the recent hospitalization of several infants infected with COVID-19.
Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, McMaster Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and Kingston Health Sciences Centre issued a joint statement Wednesday, saying six babies under the age of one had been admitted since mid-December.
Meanwhile, the Ontario government says it’s accelerating booster shots for school and child-care staff to protect children, staff and families from COVID-19.
In a written statement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said starting Friday, child-care and school staff in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area will have “planned access to vaccines.”
He notes the clinic will support priority booking for education staff, including educators, custodial staff, administrative staff, school bus drivers and child-care staff.
Lecce says the government will work with all other public health units to set up more clinics across Ontario.
Latest COVID-19 news in Ottawa
Ottawa Public Health has created a new online tool and a specialized vaccine clinic schedule to make it easier for priority populations to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations.
The agency has increased drop-in capacity at some community clinics to prioritize individuals aged 60 and older, educational and child-care workers, employees, volunteers and caregivers of residents of long-term care and retirement homes and pregnant individuals.
Starting Thursday, members of these cohorts can submit their information to OPH’s new COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration tool to obtain an appointment at a nearby clinic.
The tool is available at https://secureforms.ottawapublichealth.ca/vaccines/wait-list/en?lang=fr .
This site screens for eligibility while collecting information about location preference to ensure a registered individual is notified quickly when a drop-in spot at a nearby vaccine clinic becomes available.
If a clinic has same-day openings, individuals who register will be contacted by email or text message and asked to confirm their ability to attend.
Ottawa Public Health has also increased capacity for a booster shot clinic for older adults at the Nepean Sportsplex, for those who still require a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Adults aged 60 and older who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and at least 84 days (three months) have passed since their last dose are encouraged to contact Ottawa Public Health’s booking line to book an appointment.
Clinic details :
Nepean Sportsplex, Halls A & B, 1701 Woodroffe Ave.
Jan. 6 from 12:45 p.m. to 7:15 pm
January 7 to 9 from 9:45 am to 4:15 pm
By appointment only – call OPH directly at 613-691-5505 to book
Ottawa Public Health is reporting 1,231 new COVID-19 cases and one more related death Thursday.
There have now been 47,687 total cases and 626 deaths in Ottawa.
OPH is aware of 8,389 active cases in the city, with 35 patients in hospital and three in ICU.
There have been 6,880 cases over the past seven days at a weekly rate of 652.3 cases per 100,000 population.
Officials completed 1,221 tests on Tuesday, the most recent available data, and nearly half (49.8 per cent) tested positive, which surpassed the previous record high of 48.3 per cent, set on New Year’s Day.
Since December, testing is only being done among high-risk individuals who are symptomatic and/or are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, frontline workers, residents in high-risk settings and other vulnerable populations.
Ottawa’s weekly test positivity average has been 35.5 per cent for the past seven days.
The agency reported four new outbreaks in health-care or congregate living facilities, for a total of 53 ongoing outbreaks. This included an outbreak at Governor’s Walk Retirement Residence on Stanley Avenue, though OPH says the numbers listed on its COVID-19 public dashboard are incorrect. Only one case has been detected at the home.
There were two more outbreaks reported at schools or daycare facilities, for a total of 25 outbreaks.
Meanwhile, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board announced it had received a first shipment of N95 masks, as they prepare to an eventual return to in-school learning.
A time-limited subsidized emergency child-care program for school-aged children of front-line workers will start on Monday.
Health-care workers who provide in-person care in high-risk settings will be prioritized.
The City of Ottawa is working with local not-for-profit child-care providers, school boards and Ottawa Public Health to decide how the program will roll out, said the city’s community and social services department in a memo to councillors.
Omicron infections mean child-care providers are expected to experience significant staffing shortages, affecting the system’s capacity, the memo states.
The province has asked municipalities to prioritize access to emergency child care for front-line healthcare workers, both regulated and unregulated, who provide in-person care in high-risk settings such as hospitals and congregate care facilities such long-term care homes, as well as first responders.
The city expects to release a list of approved childcare providers over the weekend. Families can apply online on the city’s website.
Latest COVID-19 news from Quebec
At a briefing Thursday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said the COVID-19 “situation at the moment, is very, very, very difficult.” in Quebec.
For the first time since the pandemic started, more than 400 people were admitted to Quebec hospitals with COVID in a single day.
Dubé said the province is almost ready to launch an online platform that will allow people to report positive results of home tests. He said he hopes it will be up and running next week. The system will help Quebec better gauge the situation now that the province has severely restricted who can get a PCR test.
He noted that many patients who figure in Quebec’s hospitalization statistics were not admitted for COVID but are positive nonetheless. Even though COVID isn’t their main diagnosis, hospitals must handle them differently from other patients.
“It complicates the work of health workers,” he said, noting that a woman with COVID who delivers a baby can’t be placed close to a woman who does not have COVID.
-With files from Postmedia staff and The Canadian Press