The number of Ontario schools that are closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks has reached double digits for the first time this school year.

The latest data from the Ministry of Education reveals that there are now 10 Ontario schools that are closed, following the decision to switch Grenoble Public School in Flemingdon Park to remote-learning only as of Tuesday morning.

That decision came after at least 15 students tested positive for the virus.

The rash of school closures come amid a recent rise in lab-confirmed infections amongst public school students and staff that has outpaced the increase seen in the broader community.

The ministry is reporting 277 new school-related cases over a three-day period ending Monday afternoon, up from 245 new cases over the same time period last week.

The number of active cases associated with the public school system has increased nearly 22 per cent week-over-week and now stands at 1,357.

As a point of comparison, Ontario’s active caseload only rose 14 per cent over the same time period.

The good news is that children aged 5 to 11 are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine with appointments being made available for the first time on Tuesday morning.

The hope is that the widespread vaccination of younger children will help protect schools over the coming winter months and help Ontario avoid the sort of provincewide school closure that was imposed following the holiday break last year.

“We can reduce the number of cases by having high vaccine rates,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said during a news conference on Tuesday morning when asked about the uptick in infections. “It is has been a very effective tool at reducing cases and in our high schools we have one of the highest vaccine rates in the country and we have one of the lowest case rates.”

Lecce said that by having a high vaccination rate among school-aged children Ontario will be able to allow its youngest residents to have “the learning experience that they want.”

He said that school boards will also do their part by making vaccine clinics “as available and accessible both after school hours and on weekends.”

“We want parents to feel supported in their decision making and in my opinion I do think there is a significant benefit to be vaccinated with this age group,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore told CP24 earlier on Tuesday morning. “We are seeing the case counts only increase in this age group. As we allow them to have more and more social activities this virus wants to spread in small social environments and as a result we are seeing more cases in this age group and sadly the risk of hospitalization is going up in this age group as well. So it is very timely to have this vaccine available to parents and children.”

The number of cases being reported by publicly-funded school boards steadily declined through most of October but has now been on the rise for weeks.

The 277 cases reported on Tuesday is, in fact, the second highest number reported since classes resumed in early September.

It also points to an acceleration in case growth that is now outpacing what Ontario schools saw at this time during the 2020-2021 school year when the second wave of the pandemic was well underway.

Over the last week Ontario schools have reported an average of 107.8 new cases in students and educational staff each day. But at this time last year the rolling seven-day average was only 88.

There were also only four school closures at this point in the 2020-2021 school year, though by the December holiday break that number had risen to 22.