Education Minister Stephen Lecce announces funding for improved ventilation in schools, August 4, 2021. (via YouTube) Education Minister Stephen Lecce announces funding for improved ventilation in schools, August 4, 2021. (via YouTube)

Province won't mandate COVID-19 vaccines for staff and students

The Ministry of Education will not mandate COVID-19 vaccines for teachers or students.

During a news conference Wednesday, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said while they are encouraging all Ontario residents to get vaccinated, the government will not mandate vaccines on any level.

"The government has made a decision in the context of mandating vaccines and we're not going to do that, we will respect the choice an individual will make. But at the same time we can be strong advocates for vaccines as a safe way to reduce risk and allow for a more normal return to class," said Lecce.

Lecce also indicated that at this time there will not be a requirement for unvaccinated staff to have frequent rapid tests done.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said rapid tests are often unreliable and cumbersome for school boards and health units to administer.

"There is a significant risk of rapid testing being a false positive when you have a low rate of infection, and then you need a confirmatory test through a PCR," said Dr. Moore. "Rapid testing of asymptomatic individuals when there is low community rate of infection is too burdensome and will have too many false positives and be cumbersome to implement."

The province's outbreak management protocols for schools are still under development. The ministry has not confirmed whether there will be different protocols in place for vaccinated and unvaccinated children and staff.

Dr. Moore did state unvaccinated students will not be excluded from participating in any normal day-to-day activities.

When asked about capping class sizes, Lecce continued to tout the province's plan of improved ventilation, masks, and screening protocols as the best way to avoid the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

"Yes distancing is important, which our guidance recommends within our schools, in addition to hand hygiene, in addition to improved air ventilation, in addition to a strict screening regime before children enter schools, and access to low-barrier testing, all of which is the basis of our plan," said Lecce.

In an effort to further improve ventilation in schools, Lecce announced an additional $25-million to purchase 20,000 HEPA units to deploy in all student spaces without mechanical ventilation. The units will also be placed in all Junior and Senior Kindergarten classrooms where students will not be required to wear masks.

By the start of the school year, Lecce has committed that each school will share all ventilation information for parents and staff.

Lecce also announced a revision to the province's health and safety measures that were released on Wednesday afternoon. High-contact sports like basketball and hockey will now be allowed, even outside the students' cohorts.

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