Beefed up COVID-19 measures are coming to schools in Ontario. They come as students in Eastern Ontario, Middlesex-London, Ottawa, and Southwestern Public Health Units go back to in-person learning today. 

The Ministry of Education is mandating masks for students in grades one to three, both inside and outside when distancing cannot be maintained.  Schools will also be expanding targeted on-site voluntary testing for students and staff as well as give on-site confirmation of screening for staff and secondary students. Schools will also begin discouraging students from hanging out together before and after school.

Officials say these enhanced measures also apply to licensed child care centres.

Ontario officials also gave a breakdown of the added $381-million in federal funding this Monday. The second phase of the Safe Return to Class Fund earmarks $64.55 million for health and safety, such as personal protective equipment costs. $62-million will support summer learning, $60-million will support online learning and $80 million will support the purchase of more laptops and tablets. 

Ventilation funding is getting a $50-million boost, $33-million will be set aside to support hotspot communities, and $10-million will go to the Student Nutrition Program. Finally, $10-million will go to student mental health support, $6.45 million will support equity initiatives and student transportation will receive $5-million in support.

In addition, the Ministry gave a summary of COVID-19 cases in schools. According to provincial officials, from the start of the school year to December 18th, about 70 percent of school boards reported one or zero cases. Since September, no new cases have been reported in over 99 percent of students with 58 out of 4,828 Ontario schools closing in light of COVID-19 outbreaks.