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COVID-19: Ottawa mayor, top doctor call on Ontario for return to school

Click to play video: 'Ottawa ICU doctor calls for the immediate reopening Ontario schools' Ottawa ICU doctor calls for the immediate reopening Ontario schools
Palliative care physician, Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, talks about the mental health crisis facing children and the need to prioritize reopening schools across the province. – May 26, 2021

Ottawa’s mayor and top doctor are calling for students to return to the classroom before the end of the school year given manageable COVID-19 levels in the city.

Mayor Jim Watson recounted the nearly 150 classes he has had virtual visits with during the pandemic in his update at the start of Wednesday’s city council meeting. He said that, over time, the effects of remote learning and a lack of social connection in the classroom were apparent.

Read more: Ontario’s chief medical officer wants in-person schooling to resume before provincial reopening

“It became quite noticeable, the steady decline in morale and engagement from students with each passing week,” he said.

“We’ve reopened golf courses, we’ve reopened basketball courts, we’ve reopened tennis courts. Premier Ford, now is the time to reopen school,” he said.

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Click to play video: 'Debate rages on over whether students should return to classroom' Debate rages on over whether students should return to classroom
Debate rages on over whether students should return to classroom – May 21, 2021

Dr. Vera Etches also stated her support for opening schools, noting that COVID-19 levels have dropped to a sufficient level to allow for a safe return to the classroom.

Ottawa Public Health reported 63 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as the weekly incidence rate in the city dropped below 50 cases per 100,000 people. She noted that these figures don’t tell the whole story, as testing volumes have similarly dropped, but indicators such as the wastewater monitoring data also show a decline in viral level locally.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Ottawa also dropped below 800 and the city’s weekly coronavirus positivity rate fell to 5.1 per cent as of Wednesday.

“Are the levels of COVID low enough for schools to reopen? I do believe they are,” Etches said.

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Ottawa’s medical officer of health added that, given the demographic coverage of vaccines, a majority of education workers in the city are likely now inoculated with at least one dose.

Ottawa has booked 48,500 COVID-19 vaccine appointments since releasing new slots on Sunday, coinciding with the expansion of eligibility to youth aged 12-17. Watson said that roughly two-thirds of those bookings are from the new cohort.

Read more: Ottawa residents with no 2nd dose bookings not forgotten, officials say

Vaccine coverage would provide more protection for a return to school and Etches said that the warm weather will allow schools to open windows in the classroom to improve ventilation. She suggested teachers could even take their classes outside for instruction in some cases, pointing to the increased safety of outdoor activities in the pandemic.

Etches said OPH is prepared to accommodate the increased contact tracing load that would come with a return to the classroom.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Calls in Ontario grow louder for return to in-class learning' COVID-19: Calls in Ontario grow louder for return to in-class learning
COVID-19: Calls in Ontario grow louder for return to in-class learning – May 21, 2021

While she gave the public credit for the work they’ve done to limit their contacts and reduce transmission of the virus under the most recent provincial restrictions, Etches urged that the city is not out of the woods yet.

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“As the level of COVID drops, the level of vaccination rises, we are still at risk of a resurgence of COVID-19 in Ottawa,” she said, noting that residents in their 40s and 50s are still being admitted to hospital with the virus.

The number of Ottawa residents in hospital with COVID-19 held steady at 51 as of Wednesday, with 13 patients now in the intensive care unit, according to OPH.

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