Northern Ontario’s lockdown extended 14 days to January 23

Will match original 28-day duration of southern Ontario lockdown

ONTARIO—The provincial government announced Thursday afternoon that Northern Ontario’s lockdown will be extended for 14 days to match the original end date of the southern Ontario lockdown, January 23, and has extended virtual-only learning for southern Ontario students until January 25, though Northern Ontario students will return to school as originally scheduled.

“These time-limited measures are being taken to help ensure that all Ontarians stay at home as much as possible to minimize transmission of the virus and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, while at the same time being responsive to the fact that Northern Ontario students are not able to learn at home as effectively due to limited access to reliable Internet service,” stated a January 7 press release from the Ontario government.

Elementary and secondary school students in Northern Ontario, which includes the District of Manitoulin as part of Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD), will be allowed to resume in-person learning this coming Monday, January 11.

The Ontario government has pledged a $1.3 billion plan to improve student safety in educational settings. This includes investments in personal protective equipment, improved ventilation, money to support the hiring of additional staff, as well as a promise to increase asymptomatic testing as a surveillance measure against the pandemic.

“In the nearly two weeks since Ontario was moved into a province-wide shutdown, trends in key public health indicators have continued to worsen in both Northern and southern Ontario, including concerning trends in health system capacity, most notably in hospitals. Trends show increasing transmission in many Northern Ontario public health regions, with only one region showing a sustained low level of transmission,” the press release stated.

PHSD is among those health units that has shown increasing cases, including a recent slate of eight new cases on Manitoulin Island from this week. This is why Ontario has extended the temporary lockdown measures in the North.

Since the start of the lockdown on December 26, 2020, three more people have been hospitalized for COVID-19 in Northern Ontario.

There are currently nine people in Northern Ontario receiving acute care support, four people in intensive care units and two on a ventilator.

Hospitals in PHSD’s catchment area are presently facing acute care capacity levels above 90 percent.

“The impacts of these time-limited measures throughout the province will be evaluated after 14 days to determine if it is safe to lift any restrictions or if they need to be extended,” the release continued.

Other ongoing issues include increased workplace transmission, more community spread in the wake of the holiday season, as a result of more people visiting friends and family.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is crucial that all Ontarians continue to follow all public health and workplace safety measures,” said Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health. “To help stop the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard health system capacity, Ontarians are strongly urged to stay at home, limit trips outside of their households for essential reasons only and must not gather with individuals outside of the people they live with.”

Child care, both home-based and at centres, will stay open during the lockdown. Ontario has pledged funding for school boards to increase technology access for students.

Financial support is also available for families during this temporary remote learning period through the ‘Support for Learners’ program. Starting on January 11, the program will be expanded to allow $200 for each child or youth up to Grade 12 and $250 for each child or youth up to age 21 with special needs. Applications will be open until February 8 on the website.

Ontario has also injected $10 million into student-centred mental health support services, such as Kids Help Phone.