As we begin 2021, there is a renewed sense of optimism as new vaccines are being approved by Health Canada, increasing the potential supply. Our COVID-19 vaccination program is well underway, with close to 100,000 doses already administered. The worldwide demand has resulted in an unpredictable delivery of the vaccine, making it challenging to schedule staff and patients and organize vaccination sites. Despite the challenges, the rollout team, under the direction of retired General Rick Hillier, hopes to have the vast majority of our long-term care patients inoculated with their first dose by the end of January. The task force has also developed an ethics-based plan that will ensure those who need the vaccine the most will get it in a transparent and equitable way. For more information on this and all COVID-19 news, please visit https://ontario.ca/covid-19.
The vaccination program cannot come soon enough, especially for our most vulnerable. As predicted, the infection rate is spiking, with Ontario consistently experiencing over 3,000 new cases per day. New data reveals a high level of transmission in many parts of the province, with over half of Ontario’s regions reporting a rate of over 100 cases per 100,000 people. The provincial positivity rate is also high at 7%, well above the 2.5%-3% provincial threshold, with some regions as high as 13.9%. Unfortunately, our region of Eastern Ontario is not immune, reaching new daily highs. To counter these increases, the government has instituted further measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, save lives, preserve health system capacity, and protect vulnerable populations and those who care for them. Despite opening up an additional 3,000 additional hospital beds since last March, provincial and local hospital capacity is critically low. Some hospitals are already redirecting accident and critically ill patients to other locations due to a lack of standard and ICU beds, and most elective surgeries have been postponed.
Through these unprecedented times, we are asking you to stay home as much as possible and limit trips outside your home to the necessities, such as getting food or medication, going to medical appointments, supporting vulnerable community members, childcare, and getting exercise or walking pets with the people you live with. The vaccination program is underway, and it is the quickest and surest way to reduce the number of people requiring hospital care. We need everyone’s cooperation to allow the time necessary to take effect and provide its benefits.
Targeted testing done among students and staff in December 2020 confirmed that schools are not a significant transmission source. However, with students having been at home for several weeks and with reports of concerning behaviour over the holidays, the positivity rate among school-aged children has increased sharply. Most troubling, the positivity rate for kids aged 12-13 years old increased from 5.44 percent in early December to nearly 20 percent in early January. In response to growing community transmission, in-person learning for elementary students will be deferred until January 25, aligning with the planned return of in-person education for secondary school students. The ministry will receive funding to purchase approximately 160,000 additional laptops and tablets province-wide. Financial support is also available for families during this temporary remote learning period through the Support for Learners program. Starting on January 11, 2021, an expanded Support for Learners program provides $200 for each child or youth up to Grade 12 and $250 for each child or youth up to age 21 with special needs. Applications will be open until February 8, 2021.
As always, remember to stay safe and protect yourself and your loved ones.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry