Ontario officials confirmed on Wednesday that vaccinated and unvaccinated children can participate in the same activities when they return to school this fall.
Although Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Kieran Moore has previously hinted that unvaccinated children may face different isolation requirements if they come into contact with COVID-19 at school, he said Wednesday that all children can participate in the same activities in schools.
“There should be no barriers or stigma for children who have not received a vaccine as part of normal activities throughout the school year,” he said.
He added that the government would not know the immunization status of each child to impose different rules.
Moore spoke alongside Education Minister Stephen Lecce in Thornhill, where they answered questions about the province’s back-to-school plan following the announcement of new funding for air filtration in schools.
Children 12 and older are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in Canada, but Lecce has confirmed that Ontario will not make vaccination mandatory at this time to return to school.
Vaccines for several others communicable diseases, including measles, polio and chickenpox, are required to attend school in the province.
For now, the government will focus on encouraging voluntary vaccination against COVID-19.
“[Vaccination] is our way to avoid the fourth wave or an increase in cases, ”said Moore.
There may still be different health guidelines for unvaccinated children in the event of school exposure or outbreaks, but those plans have yet to be released.
Province wants faster rotation of COVID-19 tests
Lecce wants to speed up COVID-19 test turnaround times for the 2021-22 school year to reduce absenteeism among students.
He said take-home testing for children may be allowed and is working to increase testing options for families. He has heard calls for less invasive testing options and said he is working to make cheek swabs and saliva more readily available.
Rapid testing in schools was considered, but public health agencies ultimately decided it was too heavy in communities with low case rates, Moore said.
Rapid tests tend to give false positives, and a second PCR test would be needed to confirm if someone is truly infected, Moore said. It could create a lot of work if schools were to regularly test asymptomatic individuals.
Instead, the province is working to make sure COVID-19 assessment centers are accessible to families.
High contact indoor sports allowed
The Ontario government updated its back-to-school plan on Tuesday night to allow high contact indoor sports.
This means that students will be able to play hockey, basketball and other games in the gym class and on school teams.
Moore said he believes the decision is reasonable as long as schools implement testing and students have easy access to COVID-19 testing.
New portable HEPA filters are coming to schools
Lecce announced additional funding of $ 25 million to improve ventilation in Ontario schools.
The money will be used to purchase High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtering units for school spaces that do not have mechanical ventilation. Stand-alone HEPA units will also be purchased for all kindergarten classes regardless of building ventilation, as these young students are not required to wear masks.
Lecce predicts that the new HEPA units will be in place by September.