City ready for schools to reopen: Dr. Etches

Ottawa's top doctor says the city is ready for schools to reopen.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday following a technical briefing on the city's COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said she believes children should be in school sooner rather than later.

"My recommendation to reopen schools comes from seeing the decline in the percent of people testing positive, seeing the reproductive number coming down, and seeing the rate of COVID-19 in our community going down," Dr. Etches said.

In the past two weeks, Ottawa has seen transmission rates decline after a post-Christmas spike in cases at the start of the new year. On Tuesday, Ottawa Public Health reported 23 new cases of COVID-19, it's lowest figure since mid-December. The testing positivity rate has gone from 4.7 per cent to 3.0 per cent, and weekly averages have been nearly cut in half.

However, it remains unclear when the provincial government will allow children to return to in-person classes, as a stay-at-home order and state of emergency remain in effect in the province.

Dr. Etches says keeping schools closed is having a negative effect on students' and families' mental health, and that local school boards managed COVID-19 successfully in the fall.

"The level of community transmission right now is similar or lower than it was at our peak in October, and we managed," she said.

Local dad Matt Myers agrees that schools should reopen soon, saying his own daughter is having a hard time with the extended online lessons.

"She is struggling emotionally, mentally, and she is frustrated. She has lots of freak outs, lots of complete breakdowns because she misses being around people and learning in front of her teachers," he told CTV News.

Ottawa mom Sarah Berns says the lack of clarity is stressful.

"What was all that work for? And now to give us no date, too, is very hard. It's like back to last spring," she said.

Dr. Etches says she is in regular conversations with provincial health authorities who are looking at a variety of public health trends. 

"One number does not tell a whole story," Dr. Etches said. "The chief medical officer of health is looking for a downward trend in the COVID levels. The per cent testing positive is dropping, the reproductive number is dropping," Dr. Etches said. "I think where the input of the local medical officer is only one input."

Seven public health units in Ontario returned to in-person learning this week, including Kingston, Leeds & Grenville, and Renfrew County, but the province has ordered schools in hot spots like Toronto, York Region, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex to remain closed until at least Feb. 10.