Schools in Ottawa will be open Tuesday: Etches

Ottawa's medical officer of health says schools will be open on Tuesday.

Dr. Vera Etches made the comment while speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA's "Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron" Monday afternoon.

"I'm sending a message today that schools will be open tomorrow. It's something we're reviewing. We'll give you notice if they are needing to close," she said.

Etches' comments come shortly after she released a joint letter to the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health, calling for a province-wide stay-at-home order. The letter was co-signed by the medical officers of health for Toronto and Peel Region, Dr. Eileen de Villa and Dr. Lawrence Loh.

Her comments also follow an announcement from Peel Public Health, in which Loh ordered that schools in the region close this week. Schools in Ontario are closed April 12 to 16 after the province pushed March Break back a month.

In addition to calling for a stay-at-home order, the joint letter also demanded that the province "move schools to online or hybrid learning where local jurisdictions' school outbreaks are significant and capacity to manage is stretched."

Etches said that the number of school outbreaks in Ottawa, where there is proven transmission of COVID-19 within the school, has been relatively stable but she and her staff are reviewing the data to advise on an approach for local schools. 

According to Ottawa Public Health's COVID-19 dashboard, there are seven Ottawa schools with declared COVID-19 outbreaks. The outbreaks account for 13 student cases and six staff cases.

When it comes to total cases, Ottawa's four school boards are reporting the following case loads:

  • OCDSB (As of April 4): 91 active student cases, 17 active staff cases
  • OCSB (As of April 1): 58 active student cases, 6 active staff cases
  • CEPEO (As of April 1): 10 active student cases, 7 active staff cases
  • CECCE (As of April 5): 29 active cases among students and staff (board does not make distinction)

"The challenge we're seeing is that the higher the rate of COVID in the community, the more people are coming into the schools and testing positive and being in the schools potentially when they were infectious," Etches said.

Etches has been a strong proponent of keeping schools open as much as possible through the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that closing them is often more harmful to families and students. She stressed that the risk in schools is not transmission from student to student or from student to staff, but from staff bringing COVID-19 into the schools from the broader community, where cases are at an all-time high.

"We know that schools are important for people. There's real distress that results when schools are closed. Some children, in particular, are really disadvantaged with school closures. It's not a decision we take lightly," she said. "I'm concerned that closing schools doesn't address the drivers of transmission. It's not the schools where we see a lot of transmission; it's people coming into the schools from the community with COVID."

One school that will not be opening this week is St. Leonard school. The school sent a note to parents Monday, obtained by CTV News Ottawa, that said it would be closed April 6 through April 9, and will shift to online learning. St. Leonard is one of the seven schools with an active outbreak.

In a letter to the directors of education of Ottawa's four school boards, Etches explained her reasoning for keeping schools open.

"The situation with COVID-19 and schools in Ottawa is currently manageable, as 73 per cent of schools have no people with an active COVID-19 infection where there was an exposure in school, and 98 per cent of schools are free from an outbreak," she said.

"I ask that teachers, administrators, school staff, parents and students all continue to do their part to strictly follow the COVID-19 precautions in schools and to limit close contacts before and after school to members of their household. This is not the time to let up on our diligence to keep each other safe."