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Ottawa schools could reopen by end of May if COVID-19 trends continue: Dr. Etches

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, said Wednesday that COVID-19 levels in the capital could warrant a return to school by the end of May. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ottawa’s medical officer of health said Wednesday that schools in the city could reopen for in-person learning by the end of May if the levels of COVID-19 continue to drop locally.

Dr. Vera Etches said in a press conference that Ottawa Public Health and local officials have been in discussions with their Ontario counterparts about a regional approach to reopening schools from the current stay-at-home order.

If Ontario adopts the regional strategy, based on current COVID-19 trends, Etches projected kids could return to the classroom in the next three weeks.

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“It’s looking positive to be able to open schools towards the end of May, if the rate of COVID continues to come down in our community,” she said.

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Ottawa has seen a general decline in COVID-19 cases over the past month, with 115 new cases added on Wednesday, down from highs of 370 daily cases seen in mid-April. These trends are borne out in data tracking viral levels in Ottawa’s wastewater system, Etches said.

Hospitalizations have declined to the point where 73 Ottawa residents are now in hospital with COVID-19, with 18 in the intensive care unit.

Etches said she is “encouraged” by the trends in Ottawa but said we have to “continue to be cautious.”

The current stay-at-home order is what’s allowing the city to flatten the curve and make progress on its vaccination campaign, she said, but vaccine protection in Ottawa is not yet widespread enough to warrant dropping restrictions.

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“We need to get schools open and then we need to look at other measures that could be relaxed,” she said.

Mayor Jim Watson expressed his support for this strategy on Wednesday, saying he hopes Ottawa kids will be able to get at least a month in class before the end of the school year.

He expressed concern for Toronto and Peel Region, which still account for roughly half of Ontario’s daily total of COVID-19 cases, but said the situation in the GTA should not affect Ottawa’s ability to reopen its schools.

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Ottawa’s weekly coronavirus positivity ticked up to 6.6 per cent on Wednesday, while the number of ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks in the city dropped to 30.

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