The Ontario government is looking to salvage the remainder of the 2021 school year and will look at the possibility of bringing students back into the classroom, if teachers can receive their COVID-19 vaccines in time.

Earlier this month, Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young-Hoon, said general education staff will become eligible for the vaccine when the provincial booking system opens up to those who work remotely, which is estimated to begin in June.

Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford adds Young-Hoon and the Northwestern Health Unit will make the final call on when local teachers will receive their vaccines. But provincially, the senior cabinet Minister says discussions are taking place to move teachers up the priority list.

“I’m hopeful to move towards teachers in the coming weeks. I’m very excited about that. If we’ve got a chance at all for some of these things like opening schools, that would be an important segment of the population to vaccinate.”

As it stands, the vast majority of teachers have yet to be vaccinated, as only those in the highest-risk communities like Toronto and Peel are eligible for their shot. The only exception being for education workers who support students with special needs.

“We’ve focused on special education and education support workers in congregate areas,” adds Rickford. “We’ve discussed that with Dr. Young-Hoon and she’s looking at a plan for that. We’re hopeful that we can salvage the school year.”

Students have been learning virtually since the delayed April Break earlier this month, with no date to return to in-person learning. In northwestern Ontario, the Keewatin-Patricia and Kenora Catholic school year calendars end by June 25.

Rickford, who also serves as the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Energy and Northern Development and Mines, notes he’s still on the waiting list for his vaccine, but praised the work of local staff who are vaccinating the public on the front-lines.

“We’re doing very well. A shout-out to the NWHU team and our local pharmacies, who are really getting and moving the supply out to the population. We just need more vaccines. Everybody should be a priority.”

As of April 26, the NWHU has reported administering over 24,000 COVID-19 vaccinations in the area, but staff are no longer reporting the percentage of residents in each age group that have received their COVID-19 vaccine.

Now, the NWHU says 11,249 doses have been administered in residents aged 18-59, 5,526 doses in those aged 60-69, 4,710 doses for residents aged between 70-79, and 2,964 doses have been administered for those 80 or above in their catchment area.

Overall, the NWHU reports that about 28 percent of northwestern Ontario’s population has received at least one dose. As well, roughly 2,000 residents have received both doses of their COVID-19 vaccine, as there have been 24,499 total doses administered, with only 22,499 individuals receiving a vaccine.

Groups that are eligible to sign-up for the provincial COVID-19 vaccination booking system include anyone aged 60 years or older, healthcare workers, Indigenous adults and those in long-term care homes.

Vaccine appointments for those with the highest risk health conditions such as pregnant adults, those with intellectual or developmental disabilities, obesity with a BMI over 40 or residents on treatments that can cause immuno-suppression, their caregivers, and pregnant people are available by calling 1-833-943-3900 or through their healthcare provider.

More information on booking an appointment can be found HERE.

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in contact with a positive case of the virus is asked to immediately self-isolate, get tested and remain in isolation until your test results are known.