Today’s coronavirus news: Toronto Public Health says it’s investigating first school case

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Monday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

9:10 p.m. (updated): Toronto Public Health has announced an investigation into the city’s first case of the Omicron variant at a school.

The public health agency said in a tweet on Monday evening that it is “investigating TO’s first school case of Omicron” at Precious Blood Catholic School in Scarborough.

TPH said staff has identified and followed up with close contacts and asked them to self-isolate, check for symptoms and get tested.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board confirmed to the Star the case was identified in a student.

Read the full story here: First school case of Omicron variant under investigation at east Toronto school

8:15 p.m.: More than 120 staff at Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton have been placed on leave after Halton Public Health banned unvaccinated staff from working at the jail last week amid a COVID-19 outbreak, according to a union memo obtained by the Star.

The combination of outbreak control measures and staffing shortages is raising concerns for both inmates and staff at the jail, which has seen frequent lockdowns through the pandemic particularly during an outbreak at the start of the year that spread through 250 inmates and 100 staff members.

There are 80 cases linked to the current outbreak, according to Halton Public Health. As of Dec. 1, according to the Ministry of the Solicitor General, there were 36 active inmate cases.

Read the full story here: More than 120 off work at GTA jail after health unit bars unvaccinated staff

7:00 p.m.: A Conservative MP says asking her to resubmit proof of her medical exemption from receiving a COVID-19 vaccination was a case of political overreach by the Liberal government.

Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall raised the issue Monday from the front seat of a car, as MPs can now participate virtually in the House of Commons following the adoption of a hybrid model.

But as part of the motion setting up the hybrid model, the government also insisted that any medical exemptions granted to MPs from the vaccination mandate must comply with federal and Ontario guidelines.

Read the full story here: Parliament is checking exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination. A Conservative MP says that’s not fair

6:45 p.m.: Toronto Public Health declared COVID-19 outbreaks at six schools on Monday after identifying two or more confirmed cases at each location.

The schools are Branksome Hall, Dewson Street Junior Public School, Michael Power-St. Joseph High School, Holy Angels Catholic School, Maurice Cody Junior Public School and Prince of Peace Catholic School.

Public health staff are working with the schools to notify close contacts and ask them to isolate.

There are currently 420 active confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the TDSB and 86 active cases in 39 TCDSB schools.

6:25 p.m.: Four Conservative MPs have been absent from the House of Commons since it passed a motion tightening the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, with Leader Erin O’Toole refusing to say why.

On Nov. 26, the Liberals and New Democrats voted in favour of a motion to resume hybrid sittings of the House, allowing MPs to participate in proceedings in person or remotely.

The motion also specified that anyone who appears in person must be fully inoculated or have a medical exemption that complies with Ontario’s public health rules.

Since then, Conservative MPs Ted Falk, Cathay Wagantall, Dean Allison and Colin Carrie haven’t been seen in the Commons. They took part virtually in a vote last Thursday.

Asked about it Monday, O’Toole invited reporters to ask the MPs directly.

“As I have said from the beginning, all of our MPs will follow the rules,” O’Toole said. “As the rules change, over the Hill, we will make sure that we’re always not just meeting, but exceeding those rules.”

Allison and Carrie have both previously claimed they have medical exemptions that prevent them from getting vaccinated. As for Falk and Wagantall, both have refused to disclose their immunization status publicly.

On Monday, Wagantall finally confirmed that she had claimed a medical exemption but that the new requirement that it comply with the very limited exceptions allowed under Ontario public health rules was preventing her from attending the House of Commons in person.

“The House of Commons nurse and human resources needed time to consider my application in light of the government’s change to the mandate,” she told the chamber via videoconference from her car.

Wagantall raised a question of privilege challenging the adoption of the Nov. 26 motion, which she asserted constitutes “political interference” with the work of the Commons nurse who she said is professionally qualified to make independent decisions on the validity of medical exemptions.

“It is my deep belief that this action by the government to control outcomes sets a dangerous precedent,” she said. “It enables political interference in what should be the objective decision-making of medical professionals serving us, as parliamentarians.”

Wagantall’s argument failed to convince New Democrat Charlie Angus, who questioned the high number of medical exemptions in the opposition ranks.

“It is statistically ridiculous to suggest that a number of Conservatives can claim exemptions when we know that the medical exemptions are so minutely small,” he said.

Commons Speaker Anthony Rota took Wagantall’s point of privilege under advisement and will rule on it later.

The Conservatives have argued in favour of a full return to normal, in-person sittings of the Commons and often heckle ministers who appear via videoconference. But O’Toole defended Monday the choice of four of his MPs to use the virtual option to participate.

“MPs do have the ability to access the hybrid Parliament, something we opposed because it can be used by the Trudeau government to hide from accountability,” O’Toole said.

“And all MPs have that flexibility if they’re not in Ottawa, as long as hybrid is available.”

5:50 p.m.: Health officials are reporting three new cases of COVID-19 in Prince Edward Island today.

They say the latest cases involve someone in their 40s, a person in their 20s and a child under the age of 12.

The child attends Eastern Kings Early Learning Academy, which was closed today and will remain closed Tuesday to allow time for testing and enhanced cleaning.

There are 22 active cases of COVID-19 in P.E.I.

As a followup to cases announced over the weekend linked to École La-Belle-Cloche, close contacts, staff and any students experiencing symptoms were asked to attend a testing clinic today.

5:30 p.m.: Quebec’s public health institute says a “one-off” screening survey of a single day of COVID-19 cases last week found no evidence of local community transmission of the Omicron variant of concern.

The Institut national de santé publique du Québec said it will continue to adjust its strategy toward the Omicron variant.

For its survey, the province public’s health lab screened 894 of the 1,174 positive COVID-19 cases on Nov. 30. The screening turned up zero variant cases.

“This screening day allows us to have a ‘snapshot’ of the current situation in Quebec,” the institute said in a statement. “Currently, this variant does not seem to be circulating in the community, apart from cases related to travellers.”

Quebec has declared only one case of Omicron variant, in a traveller returning from Nigeria. The case was confirmed by sequencing on Nov. 29.

The province has set up screening to quickly detect the Omicron variant, and travellers from abroad who test positive for COVID-19 will be screened for the variant before samples are sent for confirmation through genome sequencing.

The Omicron variant was declared “of concern” by the World Health Organization, but study is ongoing to determine whether it is actually more transmissible or more resistant to vaccines.

“It is too early to provide an evidence-based assessment of the risk it poses,” the institute said.

The province reported 1,189 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus Monday.

Of those new cases, about 56 per cent involved people who were unvaccinated or less than two weeks removed from receiving their first dose. According to Health Department data, 80 per cent of cases reported Monday involved people aged 59 and younger.

The seven-day average for new daily infections is 1,205.

The Health Department said 226 people are in hospital, an increase of seven patients, with 62 in intensive care, an increase of three.

There are 10,272 active cases in the province.

The province administered 19,746 doses of vaccine on Sunday, including 13,000 doses for children aged five to 11 and more than 2,600 third doses for those 70 and older.

Health officials say more than 180,000 of the youngest eligible age group have received a first dose and more than 94,500 others have booked an appointment.


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