The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit announced 439 new COVID-19 cases today and the loss of a member of the community. Toronto reported 1,675 cases today, Peel reported 1,060 cases, 964 cases in York, and 588 cases in Ottawa. Yesterday there were 140 cases in our region, and on Monday there were 297 cases. There are now 3,651 active cases of COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex, bringing the total number of cases to 29,959 and 506 deaths, with 87 confirmed cases in the hospital and 13 in the ICU. Of the new cases announced today, four are from close contact with another confirmed case, 22 are considered community spread, three are outbreak related, one is travel related, and 409 are under investigation. There are six workplace outbreaks, 26 community outbreaks, and 22 outbreaks in long-term care/retirement homes. Locally, 84.3 per cent of individuals five and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 79 per cent are full vaccinated. Across the province today there were 9,782 cases, but health officials have warned that number is an underestimate due to testing limitations and backlogs. Yesterday there were 7,951 cases, and 9,706 cases on Wednesday. The total number of cases in Ontario is now 906,031, with 3,448 people in the hospital, and 505 people in the ICU.
Health officials are reiterating the need for people to vaccinate themselves in the face of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. According to health officials, the best defence against the virus is getting vaccinated and following other health measures, such as masking, physical distancing, and reducing contact with others. Those who remain unvaccinated are six times more likely to end up being hospitalized and 10 times more likely to get up in the ICU.
RETURN TO IN-PERSON LEARNING
Today, the provincial government released more details on the return to in-person learning next Monday. My caucus colleagues and I have been calling on the government to make schools safe to return to for in-person learning, including reinstating testing and tracing to identify where hotspots are to allow parents to know what is happening in their child’s school, a vaccination blitz for students, including 5-11 cohort with in-school clinics with parents’ permission, reduced class sizes, and mandatory vaccines for teachers and education workers. Today’s announcement, particularly with regards to the lack of contact tracing and the 30 per cent absenteeism threshold to declare an outbreak in schools, is troubling. We should be doing all we can to protect our children and ensure they are safe, and that there aren’t any further disruptions to their education. The government’s announcement falls short of what is needed, and people are not getting the assurances they need to feel comfortable with sending kids back.
Details from today’s announcement from the Ministry of Education include:
- 9 million rapid antigen tests will be delivered to elementary schools/childcare centres week of Jan. 10 (1.2 million week of Jan. 17)
- 2 rapid tests will be given to every student/staff member
- Tests to be replenished once used
- Tests to be available to secondary students/staff as needed
- Take-home self-collection PCR only for students/staff who become symptomatic while at school
- Principals will track staff/student absenteeism
- 30% absenteeism (staff & students) threshold will be reported to public health units
- Joint letter then goes out to school community about next steps (ie. Remote learning, merging classes, etc.)
- Retirees: Ministry has already increased re-employment rule from 50 days to 95 days
- Teacher Candidates in University: Temporary Certificates expanded to allow first and second students to teach
- Boards will be allowed to combine classes/assign students to different classes (while staying within class size caps)
- Boards will be allowed to shift to remote learning if necessary
- PHU’s and Boards working on school-based clinics, targeting 5-11 age cohort
- Boards to ensure parental consent in place, for 5-11 year olds, for clinics during school hours
- School-based clinics may operate before, during and after school hours
- 100% of public school ventilation systems assessed
- 99% of schools using higher grade filters, running ventilation systems longer & increased fresh air intake
- All boards publicly posting standardized ventilation measure reports
- Daily screening adjusted to reflect omicron symptoms
- 10 million non-fit tested N95 masks now in schools
- 4 million three-ply masks now in schools as backup for students
- Time-limited cohorting on lunchtime and recess
- Extra curriculars: paused for now
- High-contact sports: paused for now
You can read more here.
To help address staffing shortages, the Greater Essex County District School Board is calling for the Ontario College of Teachers to expedite the certification of teachers who have completed their university programs but have not yet been confirmed. The provincial government had announced earlier this week that retired teachers would be permitted to work more days to address the staff shortages, however the uptake from retired teachers in Windsor-Essex has been slow.
RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS
There will be a rapid antigen test pickup location set up at the University of Windsor Education Parking Lot (corner of University Ave West and California Ave) tomorrow and Friday starting at 10am. While registration is required, and both days appear to be fully booked, the Ministry advised that those without appointments on Thursday or Friday can return at the end of scheduled bookings to see if any tests are still available. More information is available here.
DRIVING TEST BACKLOG
For several months, my colleagues and I have been raising the delays and problems with the DriveTest Centre in Windsor and have been calling on the government to take urgent measures, such as opening up more temporary drive test locations, to address the major testing backlogs as a result of the pandemic. Instead, the provincial government said today that they will be temporarily changing the G-level driving road test to try to relieve some of the backlog caused by COVID-19 restrictions and closures. To do this, the Ministry of Transportation said they will remove some elements from the G test that are also assessed in the lower-level G2 test, such as parallel parking, three-point turns, and roadside stops. The change will be in effect until at least March 31. There are no changes to the G2 road test. You can read more here.
SUPPORTS FOR WORKERS
Workers who can’t work or who are making a lot less money during the COVID-19 pandemic because of lockdown restrictions can apply for the federal government’s Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB). The CWLB is meant for workers who don’t qualify for Employment Insurance (EI), and are not working or earning 50 per cent less than their average weekly earnings over the past 12 moths or in the years 2020 or 2021. Workers who qualify can get $300 a week before taxes. You can find more information here.
First, second, and third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are available at one of the three mass vaccination sites, located in the former Sears store at Devonshire Mall, at Hotel-Dieu Grace HealthCare, and at the Nature Fresh Farms Recreation Centre in Leamington. Appointments are needed, with no walk-ins being accepted at this time. Nature Fresh will have appointments for Tuesday to Saturday between 9 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. Hotel Dieu's clinic will be available Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Tuesday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. To book an appointment, please visit www.wevax.ca.
Pop-up vaccination clinics will be available at the following locations this week:
- Friday January 14 – Libro Arena – 3295 Meloche Rd, Amherstburg – 10am to 3pm
TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKER PROGRAM
The local health unit has issued a letter of instruction for employers of temporary foreign workers in Windsor-Essex, calling for them to immediately cancel, suspend, or postpone the arrival of any temporary foreign worker in the region due to COVID-19. The letter goes into effect immediately and is in place until February 1, 2022. You can read the letter of instruction here.
Please continue to stay safe and follow public health guidelines.