COVID-19: Ottawa schools likely to close after April break, Dr. Etches says

Dr. Vera Etches says it's likely schools will be remote-only starting April 19 due to rising COVID-19 levels in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

In-person learning at Ottawa schools will likely be put on pause after the upcoming April break due to rising COVID-19 levels, the city’s top doctor advised Friday.

Dr. Vera Etches told members of the media Friday afternoon that it’s more probable than not, given the current trajectory of COVID-19 cases and other metrics in the pandemic, that she will make the call to suspend all in-person classes across the city starting April 19, the first day schools are meant to return after the upcoming week-long break.

While Etches stressed that closing schools are the “last thing to do” in Ottawa’s efforts to flatten the COVID-19 curve, there has been little indication that recent measures to limit transmission in the city have been effective enough.

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OPH reported 242 new cases of the virus on Friday — a single-day record in the pandemic — while the number of active coronavirus cases and hospitalizations also hit new highs.

“We have no sign right now that the curve is turning. All the indicators are showing things going up still,” she said.

Etches said the final call on in-person learning will be made on Wednesday, April 14 to give parents as much time as possible to plan for child care.

She noted that Ottawa Public Health is still sorting out what the rules around child-care centres in the city will be. She suggested though that restrictions might look similar to measures put in place around school closures in Toronto, where daycare centres were closed for school-age children but allowed to remain open for in-person care for those younger.

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Etches said that while COVID-19 levels in the community have become increasingly problematic, she maintained the situation in schools “is not out of control.”

While OPH’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 13 schools are currently in open outbreaks, she said the vast majority of schools have not had issues with active cases.

Etches added that most COVID-19 cases identified in school settings originated in the community, and that classrooms have not become significant vectors of transmission.

Ottawa’s medical officer of health has long held that keeping schools open during the pandemic plays an important role in the overall health of families and has been reticent to enact the kinds of closures seen in the GTA and areas of southern Ontario.

“My heart is heavy because I know how important schools are to the health of our community,” she said Friday.

Etches noted that school closures were effective as part of a package of restrictions in other areas of the globe where strict COVID-19 measures were put in place to curb the spread of the virus.

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