TORONTO -- Students at participating schools in Ontario COVID-19 hot spots will be able to get tested for the disease regardless of whether or not they are experiencing symptoms.

Premier Doug Ford made the announcement at a school in Mississauga, Ont. on Thursday afternoon alongside Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Lecce said the decision to conduct surveillance testing is based on advice from the chief medical officer of health and is meant to help the government understand “where the challenges are within schools that may have higher rates of positivity or within communities that have higher rates of transmission.”

“This is another step, another layer of prevention to mitigate risk and to improve safety,” he added.

Ontario’s assessment centres have not been testing asymptomatic people during the second wave of the disease unless they were tied to a previously known case.

On Thursday, government officials said the asymptomatic testing will target specific schools within Toronto, Ottawa, Peel Region and York Region. The targets will be chosen by public health units with the advice of school boards.

All students, staff and teachers within those schools will have the option to receive the on-site testing. In some cases, families will also be allowed to be tested.

The first school to undergo asymptomatic surveillance testing was Thorncliffe Park Public School in Toronto’s east-end, officials confirmed.

The Ford government did not rule out the eventual mandatory COVID-19 testing for teachers, saying the decision wouldn’t be made unless the unions agreed.

“If the teachers’ union wanted it, we would do it, but I just don’t think that will happen.”

OSSTF President Harvey Bischof said the premier's comments are "astonishing," especially since neither Ford nor Lecce has reached out to the unions to see where they stand on the matter.

"We have a government that has failed day after day, week after week, month after month to meet its testing targets. And now he wants to point the finger of blame at teachers' unions that he's never even spoken to," Bischoff said in an interview with CP24.

"My guess is the vast majority of my members would love to have access to quick, efficient testing. But again, it would be really helpful if the premier would ask before he makes such really unhelpful comments."

The premier also announced a $13.6 million funding boost for schools in regions that have recently moved into the “red” zone of the province’s tiered COVID-19 framework.

“That's $13.6 million more dollars which will enable them to hire in between 135 to 175 additional teachers or about 240 more custodians or purchase over 27,000 tablets and laptops for their students,” Ford told reporters on Thursday.

“We know schools in red control zones or higher need more support to keep teachers and students safe.”

The funding is in addition to the $35 million provided to school boards in Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa in October to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Heading into the new year, the Ontario government also announced the launch of two additional learning portals and a COVID-19 “refresher” for students.

There have been more than 4,300 COVID-19 cases logged in Ontario schools since mid-September. Eighty-eight new infections were reported on Thursday, and of those cases, 70 were in students.

The Ontario government has spent more than $460 million to strengthen public health measures in schools while the federal government has also provided about $381 million.