TORONTO -- The Toronto Catholic District School Board is mandating vaccination for all students ages 12 and up who want to participate in competitive indoor sports this winter.

The board announced the policy in a letter sent to parents on Thursday, noting that it is being implemented on the advice of Toronto Public Health.

The change means that both of the city’s major school boards will now require that participants in competitive indoor sports, including players and coaches, be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 following a similar decision by the Toronto District School Board last week.

The TCDSB says that the mandate will not apply to students participating in extracurricular activities that “occur only within their school and only with students from their school” at this time.

“We are sending this communication in advance, so that students who wish to participate in indoor sports/teams/clubs that involve interschool competition have ample time to ensure they are double vaccinated prior to the start of the interschool activities,” the board’s letter to parents notes. “This vaccination requirement will apply to extracurricular sports/teams/activities where there is competition between schools, mixing with students from other schools and travel to other schools or external venues.”

MORE THAN 160 NEW SCHOOL-RELATED CASES

News of the vaccine mandate for all public school students in Toronto participating in competitive indoor sports comes amid a recent rise in school-related cases of COVID-19 and school-based outbreaks.

The Ministry of Education says that there were 164 new school-related cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus confirmed over a 24-hour period ending Wednesday afternoon, including 148 among students.

The number of active infections associated with the public school system has risen 17 per cent over the last week and now stands at 1,748.

That increase, however, trails the rise in infections in the broader community, where Ontario’s active caseload is now up nearly 25 per cent from this time last week.

According to the latest data there are currently 761 schools with at least one active case of COVID-19, accounting for roughly 15 per cent of Ontario’s public schools.

Currently 10 schools are closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks or for operational reasons related to the pandemic, down from a peak of 17 last week.

Despite that lone bit of good news, the data does show that outbreaks are continuing to become increasingly common in the school setting.

There are currently 204 Ontario schools withy active COVID-19 outbreaks, including 26 in Toronto.

The number of outbreaks is unchanged from one day prior but marks a significant acceleration from one month ago when there were only 78 schools with active outbreaks.

It is also getting closer to the all-time peak recorded at the height of the third wave of the pandemic on April 14 when 264 schools were in outbreak protocol at one time.

The rise in cases in schools comes amid a frenzied effort to get children aged five to 11 vaccinated with their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine ahead of the holiday break.

So far more than 10 per cent of all newly eligible children in Toronto have received their first dose and in neighbouring Peel Region approximately 9,000 doses have now been administered to kids aged five to 11.

“Even as we await further information around the Omicron variant, vigilance and vaccination remain our best defences against COVID-19,” Peel Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh said during a briefing on Thursday morning. “I want to urge my fellow parents of children aged five to 11, please start your child's vaccination journey without delay. I have been so relieved to see some of our young brave faces in our clinics, rolling up their sleeves to get their first dose and start their journey to protection against COVID-19. The sooner we all get our children vaccinated, the better it will be for all of them, and for our community as a whole and your family.”

The number of active infections currently associated with public schools is about 26 per cent higher than it was at this point in 2020. Back then it took until Dec. 16 to reach a similar number of active infections, just days ahead of schools closing down for an extended holiday break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.