TORONTO -- The Ontario government is asking education workers to voluntarily step up and fill staffing gaps in hospitals, long-term care homes, shelters and other congregate settings as those facilities grapple with the spread of COVID-19.

Premier Doug Ford said on Wednesday that health-care workers are the “true heroes” in the province’s fight to control the pandemic, but they need more support.

“We put out a call to our education workers to come to the aid of our hospital staff, our long-term care homes, our retirement homes and group homes, our homeless shelters and women’s shelters and other congregate facilities,” he said.

The government is asking educational workers who are not engaged in online learning activities to volunteer at front-line facilities. The volunteer positions include custodial, maintenance, food preparation, children and youth service workers, social workers, and educational assistants.

The province said that all volunteers will receive training and safety equipment. They will also be eligible for Ontario’s temporary pandemic pay and emergency child care.

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Ford said that the framework for the redeployment has been approved by all four trustees’ associations as well as provincial unions.

“The response has been overwhelming – our school boards – trustee associations and trade unions, have agreed to redeploy education workers who aren’t currently involved in at home learning,” Ford said.

“I want to thank our incredible, and I say incredible, education workers for their leadership. They are absolute champions. You are setting a great example for people to follow.”

All volunteers will be able to keep their employment status with the school boards, the government said, and will be able to terminate their redeployment at any time.

This isn’t the first time the province has tried to fill gaps in the health-care system. Early last month, the province asked anyone with a medical background to step forward in an effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. They set up a portal that would match retired or non-active health care professionals, international-educated health-care professionals, students and volunteers with healthcare experience to employers who need more staff.

Ford said on Wednesday that “thousands” of people have stepped up since then, but staffing remains a significant challenge.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who spoke following Ford’s announcement at Queen’s Park, alongside Health Minister Christine Elliott, said that he hopes all education workers will consider redeployment.

“We need people to step up and continue to step up in a big way, to be brave, to be compassionate and to serve,” he said.

“I believe it will help save lives.”

Lecce said that the voluntary redeployment of education staff should not be indicative of a decision on the government’s part on whether schools will reopen in June.

“I wouldn’t read into that at all,” he said.

Schools across the province have been closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the premier said that an announcement will be made “early next week” on whether they will reopen this academic year.