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Ontario shuts down in-person classes as COVID-19 cases surge

Ontario shuts down in-person classes as COVID-19 cases surge
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The government of the Canadian province of Ontario on Monday announced that all schools will pivot to remote learning after spring break, following record highs of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

"We are seeing a rapidly deteriorating situation with a record number of COVID cases and hospital admissions threatening to overwhelm our health care system," Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement.

"As I have always said we will do whatever it takes to ensure everyone stays safe. By keeping kids home longer after spring break we will limit community transmission, take pressure off our hospitals and allow more time to rollout our COVID-19 vaccine plan," he continued.

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The statement said that the move is in response to the rise in COVID-19 cases, the increasing risk posed by coronavirus variants and the “massive spike” in hospital admissions.

Officials said that while schools have been “safe places for learning” throughout the pandemic and have “demonstrated low rates of in-school transmission” with proper measures in place, the move is necessary because “increasing rates of community spread pose a threat to the health and safety of school communities.”

All publicly funded and private elementary and secondary schools in the province will transition to teacher-led remote learning when students return from break on April 19.

Officials ordered private schools holding instruction this week to pivot to remote learning by Thursday.

According to the statement, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations in the province has increased by 22.1 percent between April 4 and Saturday. In that same period, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care has also increased from 494 to 605.

"This was not a decision we made lightly, as we know how critical schools are to Ontario students. Our priority has always been to keep schools open, however sharply rising community transmission can put our schools and Ontario families at risk," Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said in a statement.

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"While Ontario's plan has kept schools safe, as confirmed by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, we are taking decisive and preventative action today to ensure students can safely return to learning in our schools," he added.

The province has been under a stay-at-home order since Thursday, requiring all individuals to remain at home except for essential activities.

On Wednesday, Canadian health authorities announced that Toronto, the most populated city in the country, would be canceling in-person learning for students in elementary and secondary schools amid the increase in coronavirus cases. That order is in effect until Sunday.