Etches and Watson push for regional approach to reopening schools

Arch Street Public School in Ottawa on Monday, April 12, 2021.

Dr. Vera Etches and Mayor Jim Watson favour a regional approach to reopening schools as the province assesses public health restrictions and the current stay-at-home order.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said giving students an opportunity to receive more in-class learning before the end of the school year is a priority.

Etches said city officials haven’t made a request to the province about regional school openings but they have been talking about the possibility based on the local levels of COVID-19.

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

“We know that the schools’ risk of having COVID brought into the schools is higher when the rates are higher in the community. Today, they’re still high. There’s still 75 people testing positive per 100,000 per week. When we opened schools in February, we had rates that were near half that, but we’re on a trajectory where we can be hopeful about that school opening process, so we’re sharing that hope with the province and continuing to monitor.”

Added Etches: “You can hear the desire is there to provide this essential service to children and families as soon as we can.”

Watson agreed.

“The first priority for all of us here is to get our school system back up and running so the kids could have at least a month of in-class learning. I think that’s a great priority for both their mental wellbeing and that of their parents and caregivers as well.”

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Watson said if Ottawa’s COVID-19 rates are heading in a positive direction, the local schools should be allowed to open when it’s safe.

In-class learning paused on April 19, shifting all education by primary and secondary schools to remote learning.

A provincial stay-at-home order is in place until May 19, but the provincial government has been contemplating an extension.

The signs are encouraging when it comes to the prevalence of COVID-19 in Ottawa.

The weekly count of new positive cases has been on a decline and so has the rate per 100,000 people.

According to Ottawa Public Health’s data post at noon on Wednesday, 47 per cent of eligible adults had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

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