Windsor-Essex schools will remain closed into February under new COVID-19 order

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Schools in Windsor-Essex will remain closed until next month as part of a number of new provincial measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The province announced Tuesday that remote learning will continue in the region, as well as other COVID-19 hotspots such as Toronto and Hamilton, with students not returning to the classroom until at least Feb. 10.

The continuation of school closures is one of several new measures announced Tuesday — including a stay-at-home order — as the province declared a second provincial emergency over COVID-19. The new measures will impact a range of sectors, including construction.

"From what we can see, our hospital system and our healthcare workers need us to continue doing remote learning, as much as teachers and students rather be in the school and I know parents would rather have their child [in] in-person education ... the reality is the healthcare situation and the numbers in this area do not support that," said local president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario Mario Spagnuolo.

While he acknowledged that learning from home is "difficult," "challenging," and "not equitable" for all families, he said they need to do what they can to support front-line workers who are fighting the spread of the disease.

He added that a plus to come from all this is that when students do return to in-person classes, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has mandated that all students, not just those in Grades 4 and up, will be required to wear a mask.

This is something Spagnuolo and others in the community have been advocating for since classes began back in September.

Sanjay Maru/CBC
Sanjay Maru/CBC

Moving forward, he said he'd like to see the government put together a task force within the education sector so that they can advise on how to best return to school.

Students in the region have been learning from home since the week before the holiday break.

New modelling

The province says new modelling shows the health-care system is at risk of being overwhelmed unless "drastic" action is taken to combat the sharp escalation in cases and their impact on hospitals.

The province says the provincial death toll could double from 50 to 100 per day between now and the end of next month.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens says he fully supports the new restrictions. Though businesses and families have felt the impact of the shutdowns, hospitals are now full, thousands have been infected and just over 225 people have died, he said.

"The provincial and federal governments have been forced to make some impossible decisions," he said in a statement.

Windsor-Essex has seen nearly 10,000 cases of the virus since March. More than 100 deaths have occurred in recent weeks, and 21 long-term care and retirement homes remain in outbreak.

Nineteen workplaces also remain in outbreak, with the agriculture sector in Leamington and Kingsville having the most outbreaks of any other sector with eight total.

Despite there being no outbreaks in the construction industry, Ford also announced new measures that restrict companies in this sector.

For local residential construction company owner Graeme Thompson, the restrictions mean he can't start any new projects.

Jacob Barker/CBC
Jacob Barker/CBC

"This certainly might affect the future of our company depending on how long these measures are put in place for," he said.

All he's able to do is finish up any projects started before Tuesday.

Not only will this impact his 19 construction workers, but Thompson said clients looking for renovations and projects to get done will be left hanging.

Stay at home order

The stay-at-home order is effective Thursday at 12:01 a.m. It means that people are required to remain at home except for essential reasons such as buying groceries, getting exercise, attending medical appointments or essential work.

The province says it is enacting the following measures:

  • Outdoor organized public gatherings and social gatherings are further restricted to a limit of five people with limited exceptions.

  • People are required to wear a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open. Wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended outdoors when you can't physically distance more than two metres.

  • All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m.

  • The restricted hours of operation do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery.

  • Non-essential construction is further restricted, including below-grade construction, exempting survey.