KITCHENER -- Pandemic pressures are growing at local schools.

Some have closed due to staffing shortages and COVID-19 cases. Others have outbreaks involving variants of concern.

St. John and St. Gregory Catholic Elementary Schools closed this week due to staffing shortages.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said it's problematic.

"That is a legitimate concern," he said.

Lecce said the ministry loosened rules this year and spent millions of dollars to get retired and student teachers in classrooms. However, he said school boards are having a hard time getting applicants.

"To the point that an existing school, in the province is Ontario, not because of COVID, is having to close because of the lack of staff," he said. "That is an unfortunate and really unacceptable circumstance, but it's not the product of the board, it's the nature of access to people."

The Opposition argues there are qualified educators, but more needs to be done to make schools safer against COVID-19 and variants of concern.

"People are not going to go into a working environment if they don't think the measures haven't been put into place," said NDP MPP Catherine Fife. "We've heard this loud and clear."

St. Gregory was able to reopen Thursday after public health deemed a number of staff weren't high-risk contacts. St. John will remain closed until March 8.

An outbreak was declared Wednesday at Howard Robertson Public School in Kitchener. There are two cases within the same class and the school remains open.

Monsignor Doyle Catholic Secondary School in Cambridge also announced an outbreak in a cohort on Wednesday. Officials said it involves a variant of concern. Three students have tested positive for the disease.