Ottawa

Reopen schools now, Watson, Etches urge province

Ottawa's mayor and top doctor are urging the province to reopen the city's schools, citing the slowing spread of COVID-19 in the capital.

Ottawa's mayor, top doctor says city's schools ready to welcome students back to the classroom

Students return to L'École élémentaire catholique Jonathan-Pitre in Ottawa last August. Schools across Ontario have been closed since mid-April. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Ottawa's mayor and top doctor are urging the province to reopen the city's schools, citing the slowing spread of COVID-19 in the capital.

"We've reopened golf courses, we've reopened basketball courts, we've reopened tennis courts. Premier Ford, now is the time to reopen schools," Mayor Jim Watson said during a meeting of Ottawa city council Wednesday morning.

"I regularly hear from students that they want nothing more than to see their friends and teachers, to be able to run around in their schoolyard and to have as much of a normal day as one can have during a pandemic."

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, urged the province to weigh the risk of reopening schools against the mental health of children and their parents. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The province's three-step reopening plan, announced last week, contained no mention of schools, which have been closed since April.

On Tuesday, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Willams called for in-class learning to resume. During Wednesday's city council meeting, Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, said this city's schools are ready.

"I do believe they are. I think that we have a public health team with the school boards that is ready for schools to open," Etches said, noting the rate of infection is dropping in Ottawa, along with most other key indicators. "And we know that the community level of COVID is what is driving COVID into schools." 

Weighing the risk

Etches urged the province to weigh the risk of reopening schools against the mental health of children and their parents. 

She said based on general vaccination rates, the majority of teachers will have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. She said with other precautions in place, it's not necessary to have all teachers vaccinated before students return to the classroom.

"Now that there's good weather we can open windows and doors and increase ventilation," Etches said. "Teachers can be creative. We encourage people to [teach] outdoors as much as possible."

 

Education workers have been eligible for vaccination since the beginning of May.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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