Nearly a quarter of Ontario’s public schools now have at least one active COVID-19 infection, as case counts continue to grow at an exponential rate due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

The Ministry of Education says that the number of schools with at least one case involving a student or staff member in the last 14 days has now risen to 1,167, accounting for more than 24 per cent of all public schools.

It is a 32 per cent increase from this time last week when only 884 schools were dealing with active cases.

Meanwhile, the number of schools that have been closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks or for operational reasons related to the pandemic continues to rise ahead of the last day of classes for 2021 tomorrow.

The ministry says that there are now 60 schools that have been switched to remote learning, up from just 13 last Thursday.

There are also active outbreaks at hundreds of additional schools.

As of Thursday morning 365 public schools, including 324 elementary schools had declared outbreaks.

That is the highest number of active school outbreaks at any point in the pandemic.

It should be noted that over the holiday break 11 million rapid tests are being sent home with public school student and staff in an attempt to ensure that they don’t contract COVID-19 and return to the classroom in the New Year and infect others.

However, it remains unclear what sort of viral picture could exist in the community come January with new modelling from the Ontario Science Advisory Table now warning of daily case counts which surpass 10,000 without immediate “circuit breaker” lockdown measures and a rapid expansion of the third dose rollout.

“If we want to blunt this wave and please note that I am saying blunt not flatten we will need to reduce contacts between people,” Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told reporters on Thursday. “I believe we can do this without closing schools or shutting down businesses that have suffered during previous waves but it will take serious restrictions that reduce contacts.”

According to the latest data there were another 8335 new school-related cases confirmed over a 24-hour period ending Wednesday afternoon, which is the highest single-day number other than yesterday when 384 cases were reported.

The number of active infections associated with the public school system currently stands at 2,864. At this point last December, it stood at 1,771.

There were also one-third as many school closures at this time in the 2020-2021 school year (20).