Mixing of cohorts at lunch and recess leading to COVID-19 exposures in schools, Ottawa's top doctor says

Ottawa's medical officer of health is looking at ways to limit the number of close contacts children and youth have at school each day, warning mixing of cohorts at lunch and recess are leading to cases of COVID-19.

COVID-19 outbreaks have been declared at nine schools in Ottawa, while two schools, St. Benedict Elementary School and École élémentaire catholique Marius-Barbeau, are currently closed due to COVID-19 cases.

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron, Dr. Vera Etches was asked if she expects to see more school closures this fall due to COVID-19 transmission.

"I hope not. What we are seeing is that there's more mixing of students than there was last year. When I say mixing of students, I mean the groups that children and youth are part of are called cohorts and now those cohorts are sometimes mixing at recess or mixing at lunch, and this is leading to greater exposures," said Dr. Etches on Friday.

"We're talking with the school boards about how to mitigate that, I think there's some more things that can be done to reduce the number of close contacts that people have."

Fifty-eight schools have at least one active case of COVID-19 in Ottawa.

Dr. Etches says Ottawa Public Health is discussing with Ottawa's four school boards some ideas and measures to keep cohorts separated as much as possible at schools to limit close contacts.

"I do think it's important to keep kids in school, to enable students to have the opportunity to be in school we've heard is more important," said Etches.

"So anytime there's more close contact with someone who tests positive, that's children who have to leave school if they're not vaccinated and in the younger ages they're not vaccinated. So I think it's worth doing more to try to limit the number of close contacts that children and youth have."

Ottawa Catholic School Board Director of Education Tom D'Amico told CFRA's Ottawa Now that the board meets weekly with Dr. Etches and her team, and will follow any new directives to help protect children and schools.

"If there are cohorts that could be improved, we would follow that direction."

D'Amico says while Ontario's Ministry of Education allowed cohorts to mix at recess and lunch, the Ottawa Catholic School Board has directed principals that "where possible" cohorts should not mix.

COVID-19 CASES BY SCHOOL BOARD

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Last updated Oct. 1, 2021

  • Active student cases: 32
  • Active staff cases: 1
  • Active third-party* cases: 1
  • Resolved cases: 37
  • Total classes closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Total cohorts closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Total schools closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Schools with active cases: 21 elementary, eight intermediate & secondary

*Third party refers to individuals who may be involved in a school who are not students or staff. This could include transportation providers, breakfast program volunteers, and other individuals who may frequently enter schools.

Ottawa Catholic School Board

Last updated Oct. 1

  • Active student cases: 33
  • Active staff cases: 4
  • Total classes closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Total cohorts closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Total schools closed due to COVID-19: 1
  • Schools with active cases: 12 elementary, two secondary

*The Ottawa Catholic School Board does not include resolved cases on its dashboard.

Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario

Last updated Oct. 1

  • Active student cases: 17
  • Active staff cases: 3
  • Resolved cases: 37
  • Total classes closed due to COVID-19:14
  • Total cohorts closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Total schools closed due to COVID-19: 0
  • Schools with active cases: Seven schools

Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est

Last updated Oct. 1

  • Active cases*: 22
  • Resolved cases: 79
  • Total classes in isolation due to COVID-19: 14
  • Partial school closures due to COVID-19: Two
  • Schools closed due to full COVID-19 outbreak: 1
  • Schools with active cases: 8 elementary and secondary schools

*NOTE: The CECCE does not differentiate cases between students and staff.