Elementary and secondary students had been due to return to in-person learning on Monday. But on Wednesday, the Ministry of Education announced that students in grades 1 to 12 would continue with remote learning until February 10 in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) area.
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That order would affect all students who attended schools in Prescott-Russell, Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry, and Cornwall. The EOHU’s rate of new COVID-19 cases and transmission remained high, which helped guide the government’s decision.
EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said cases had steadily fallen since a peak in the first week of January, but the region still belonged in the “grey” zone of the province’s colour coded COVID alert scheme. He said a gradual decrease gave him hope that schools would reopen sooner rather than later.
“I’m encouraged that we’ll be able to get closer to 40 [cases per 100,000 people], if not below, but our numbers remain in the grey or the red zone,” he said. “As we go downwards [in case numbers], it bodes better for schools opening. But the higher the community transmission rate, the higher the chance it gets into our schools.”
The EOHU will not receive Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines next week, due to the temporary shortage in shipments to Canada. The health unit had expected to complete the first round of vaccines across all long-term care homes in the region by next week, but would be delayed due to the shortage.
Ten homes had already been vaccinated. Dr. Roumeliotis said the first round would probably be completed by the province’s February 15 deadline, but expected the second dose would take longer to administer than planned. As of Thursday afternoon, 1516 doses of the vaccine had been administered.
Across Prescott-Russell, outbreaks continued at Foyer St-Viateur Nursing Home in Limoges, Caressant Care Nursing Home in Bourget, Heritage Lodge in Vankleek Hill, and Foyer St Jacques Nursing Home in Embrun. The outbreaks had only affected staff at those facilities so far.
Of the 544 active cases in the EOHU area on Thursday, 154 were in Prescott-Russell. Those cases included 47 in Russell, 38 in Clarence-Rockland, 25 in Alfred-Plantagenet, 14 in Champlain, 11 in The Nation, nine in Hawkesbury, eight in Casselman, and two in East Hawkesbury.