The province plans to expand asymptomatic testing program in 2021 as opposition critics call for action.

Ontario’s asymptomatic COVID-19 school testing program has so far found 57 cases after more than 3,600 tests in hot spots in Toronto, York, Peel and Ottawa, the Star has learned.
Almost half of those COVID cases were at one Toronto school, Thorncliffe Park Public School, which closed earlier this month after 26 were uncovered through the voluntary testing introduced by the government late last month.
The province is awaiting results on an additional 890 swabs, for a total of 4,544 tests conducted.
That means that so far, the positivity rate is less than two per cent, said a government source.
“It underscores what doctors have said all along: students aren’t getting COVID-19 in schools, they bring it into schools from the community,” said the source.
“Put this into perspective — in the highest-risk regions, with the highest rates of positivity, we have not seen asymptomatic spread.”
The province plans to expand the program, a first in the country, in the new year, as opposition critics continue to push for much more widespread testing in schools.
New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles, her party’s education critic and a former Toronto school board trustee, said until there is mass testing, “we are not going to have a handle on what we are dealing with.”
Amid rising cases in the community, the government sent a memo to boards advising them to prepare for online learning in case a quick switchover is needed.
Stiles, however, said the government needs to do more.
“Open or closed is not a plan,” she said. “Kids will be back at school” at some point, and the government needs to decrease class sizes, among other things, to allay families’ fears.
“The parents I have spoken to are very worried and upset about it,” she said.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner urged Premier Doug Ford to “make the call now for an extended winter break for schools, so parents and educators can plan. And provide supports for parents who need to take time off or find child-care options during that time. Use the extended break to improve ventilation in schools and to reduce class sizes to ensure safe physical distancing when students return to school.”
At a press conference Thursday, Ford was asked about further lockdown measures, including the possibility of remote learning for students after the holiday break.
“Everything is on the table,” he said. “And if we do move forward and decide to do a further lockdown there are a lot of things to take into consideration. There’s the education, making sure that we have daycare, making sure the educators are ready … having hotels for people that have COVID, that we can put them into hotels instead of at home. We have to make sure that we have something for the businesses.”
Ford also said Education Minister Stephen Lecce “has put the schools on notice as well. So it’s all hands on deck. We have to be ready for anything. And the trend is moving at a rapid, rapid fashion right now. So we’re going to be ready.”
As of Thursday, Ontario reported an additional 170 COVID cases among students and staff in all public schools, for a total of just over 7,000 since classes began in September. Some 955 schools, out of the province’s 4,828 have reported cases, or roughly one in five.
Meanwhile, a new memo to Toronto District School Board principals and vice-principals has raised concerns about reporting of cases and transparency over the holidays.
It says that “during the winter break, schools are NOT required to report cases to (the board’s) Occupational Health and Safety or the Ministry’s Go Secure website. Reporting of positive cases will resume as per the TDSB COVID-19 Response Plan on Monday, January 4.”
The memo, obtained by the Star, said that “in line with the Ministry of Education, the TDSB COVID-19 Advisories website will NOT be updated during the winter break, however any recommendation from (Toronto Public Health) for staff and/or students to self isolate will continue to be communicated to directly-impacted classes only.”