TORONTO — Premier Doug Ford promised Wednesday to publicly disclose COVID-19 infection rates in the province's schools and allow municipalities to reimpose public health restrictions if needed.
The pledge for greater transparency comes as the province begins to reopen its schools over the next two weeks for the first time during the pandemic.
The official Opposition had called on the government to centralize the reporting of COVID-19 outbreaks on schools, and Ford acknowledged on Wednesday that parents should have that information.
"I think it's so important we report every single case as we did with long-term care, we'll do the same in school," he said.
Ford's school reopening plan has been criticized by boards, teachers' unions and some parents for not doing enough to cut class sizes and allow for physical distancing.
The government has repeatedly defended the plan as safe, and stressed that it has been developed in consultation with medical experts.
In recent days, cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in a number of schools in the province.
Ottawa's French Catholic School Board said six people "associated" with five of its schools, which opened last Thursday, have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
On Tuesday, a school in Oakville, Ont., said an employee had tested positive for the virus after participating in a staff PA day last week.
The school's principal said no students were exposed to the virus and all staff who had close contact with the individual have been ordered by public health to self-isolate for 14 days.
Under current provincial guidelines, schools are required to report COVID-19 cases to parents online or with a letter home.
Ford said he believes the province needs to disclose the numbers and the government is working on a plan to do that along with its regular COVID-19 data.
"I know they're rolling this out over the next week or two," he said.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles said the province must take ownership of the reporting rather than leaving disclosures to individual schools or boards.
"The Ford government tried to downplay and hide the growing tragedy in long-term care homes as the virus swept in," she said in a statement. "We can't let them make the same mistake with our children."
Ford also said Thursday that if cities or regional governments want to impose additional restrictions, or close bars or banquet halls to limit the spread of COVID-19, he would support them.
He said they have the power to issue local public health orders, but action at the provincial level would be far too sweeping.
"You're the mayors, make a decision," he said. "We'll support you. But to say that I'm going to close the whole province, it's unacceptable. I wouldn't close the whole province when ... 16 regions don't have one single case. It's not fair to the rest of the province."
Ford's comments come after British Columbia ordered all nightclubs and banquet halls to close after COVID-19 cases began to rise in the province.
Earlier Thursday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the province could stop bars from serving alcohol at midnight to help limit virus spread in those businesses.
City of Toronto staff said in July they do not have the authority to order establishments to close early and the province would have to issue the order.
When Ontario entered Stage 3 of reopening this summer, Tory and other mayors asked the province to impose restricted serving hours but the Ford government declined.
"We have to watch the numbers. They are going in the wrong direction," Tory said Wednesday. (The new cases) are occurring in crowd scenes and crowd scenes occur at parties and weddings but they also include bars ... and sometimes the only way to deal with that is to have them close earlier."
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 149 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, but no new deaths related to the virus. There were also 136 cases newly marked as resolved over the past 24 hours.
The total number of cases in Ontario now stands at 43,685, which includes 2,813 deaths and 39,332 cases marked as resolved.
This article by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press