The Ford government will give school boards in four “red” public health regions more money to hire extra staff and allow students and staff in some areas to receive COVID-19 testing even if they are asymptomatic.

Premier Doug Ford said school boards in Durham, Halton, Hamilton and Waterloo, all in the province’s second highest “red” stage of its COVID-19 framework, will get $13.6 million to hire additional staff and pay for additional capital.

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

The new money is in addition to $35 million given to school boards in Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa in October to strengthen public health measures.

In addition, Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce said they will be adjusting the COVID-19 testing guidance for school staff and students in Toronto, York Region, Peel Region and Ottawa to allow voluntary asymptomatic testing for the next four weeks in a bid to better track how the virus is spreading in and around schools.

Since late September, Ontario’s assessment centres would not test asymptomatic people unless they were tied to a previous known case in some way.

Asymptomatic testing otherwise only occurs at participating pharmacies by appointment.

Asked if the province should embark on a system-wide testing regime for teachers, Ford said he would support it.

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

There are nearly 1,200 active cases of COVID-19 tied to schools, and 14 per cent of public schools have at least one active case.

At least two school staff members have died of the virus in the province since the pandemic began in March.

Since the summer, The Ford government has spent more than $460 million bolstering schools in preparation for COVID-19 this September, also accepting $381 million in help from Ottawa and allowing school boards to dip into $500 million in existing reserve funds to help schools with the impact of the virus.

The NDP called the new funding and testing program a “half-measure.”

“Today’s announcement is a half-measure. Some students in some regions may be able to get tests. According to the government, the location and method for testing will vary between regions and cities, regions will have to develop their own plan, and the program ends in four weeks.”

“Ford’s still trying to cheap out on testing students, teachers and staff, and that’s not good enough.”