Ottawa Catholic School Board will notify families of positive COVID-19 cases

The Ottawa Catholic School Board says it will still notify families of a positive COVID-19 case in their schools, should they learn of them, despite the Ontario government's move to suspend reporting of cases in classrooms.

In a letter to families, the OCSB said that, starting Wednesday, if the school becomes aware of a positive COVID-19 test result via a rapid antigen or PCR test, families would be notified.

"It is important to note that Principals will not be involved in contact tracing, and they will maintain confidentiality at all times. As a reminder, Ottawa Public Health has advised us that most school contacts are not considered high-risk and only need to self-isolate if they show symptoms," the OCSB said.

Parents and caregivers can voluntarily inform the school if their child has tested positive for COVID-19.

OCSB director of education Tom D'Amico told CTV Morning Live that the move would help parents know what level of COVID-19 may be present in their child's school.

"If someone in their class has told the school that they've tested positive for COVID, we will share that information," he said. "We know the student will no longer in the class, they'll be removed for five days or until their symptoms are gone, so the risk level is gone, but it will help parents be assured about what level of COVID is present in their class."

The school board stresses that all students must undergo daily COVID-19 screening before coming to class and, with testing still limited to select groups in Ontario, it is best to assume that your child has COVID-19 if they are experiencing symptoms and to keep them home.

Schools are set to resume in-person learning this week. It was supposed to start Monday, but a major blizzard kept schools closed for the day.

D'Amico said the board is prepared to welcome students and teachers back to the classroom.

"We've now distributed 201,000 N95 maks for all of our staff," he said. "We received late Friday the rapid antigen tests, so we will have those ready for distribution Tuesday or Wednesday--two tests per student and staff. We're also sending 120,000 three-ply masks to our schools for student use, if parents wish that."

D'Amico said more staff have had booster shots in the last two weeks and their HEPA filters and HVAC systems have been ready since September.

The board is also prepared for teachers who may need to call in sick and isolate due to COVID-19 symptoms.

"We do anticipate that, with the requirement of isolation for five days," he said. "Our principals have a plan in place to start with moving people around within their own school. After that, they have our occasional teachers that they would be calling. We have many retirees that volunteer to come back. We also hired over 350 classroom supervisors. Those tend to be university students who are available to help out to supervise a class. If needed, after all of our mitigation efforts, if we still are still short-staffed for safety reasons, we may have to close a class, a cohort, or possibly a school, but our goal would be to deal with that on an individual basis rather than closing 83 in-person schools."

The board says it remains committed to keeping schools open for in-person learning for the remainder of the school year.

PUBLIC BOARD FOLLOWING MINISTRY GUIDANCE

Ottawa's English language public school board says it will be following guidance from the Ministry of Education to shift to absence-based reporting.

"The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has been in discussion with Ottawa Public Health about strategies to implement the Ministry-directed absence-based reporting. At this time, we are proceeding with those plans and would like to ensure these reporting requirements are working effectively, prior to considering any additional reporting strategies," a spokesperson said in a statement.

The OCDSB had reported more than 500 COVID-19 cases in its schools prior to the Christmas break.