Ottawa’s top doctor suggests COVID-19 transmission in schools ‘limited’, concerned about symptomatic students attending classes
OTTAWA – Ottawa Medical Officer of Health expresses concern over children who test positive for COVID-19 and attend school with symptoms, and urges parents to screen their children daily before going to school.
COVID-19 outbreaks have been declared in 15 Ottawa schools, while St. Benedict Catholic School in Barrhaven has been closed due to COVID-19 cases.
Dr Vera Etches told reporters on Wednesday that the latest surveillance indicators show that Ottawa is “holding up” in new cases of COVID-19, while hospitalizations are “relatively stable”.
“More school-aged schools are attending school in person and more tests are positive than at this time last year, possibly reflecting higher rates in the community,” said Dr Etches , noting that the students have been in class for a little over a month.
“And the number of outbreaks we are seeing has not kept pace with the higher number of children testing positive, so this suggests that transmission in school is limited with the measures in place. Nonetheless, we are monitoring trends and sources of exposure to consider if further action is required. “
Ottawa’s four major school boards reported 112 active cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Dr Etches says it’s important for parents and caregivers to screen their children every day before school, to ensure that symptomatic students do not attend classes.
“What worries me the most is the percentage of children who test positive who have been to school when they were symptomatic, and the high number of high-risk contacts or close contacts that occur in schools and on social media, ”said Dr Etches.
The medical officer of health acknowledges that increased demand for tests in Ottawa has meant people have had to stay home after school and work to self-isolate while awaiting appointments and results.
“We need to limit community transmission of COVID-19 in our schools, so parents and caregivers please continue daily screening of children using Ottawa Public Health’s online screening tool” said Dr Etches.
“Please follow the instructions in the screening tool, so if you are asked not to send your child to school, then look for this test right away.”
The Ottawa COVID-19 Testing Task Force and CHEO say they continue to work to expand COVID-19 testing capacity in Ottawa, including opening a temporary pop-up clinic at McNabb Arena and increasing the hours on weekends at COVID-19 assessment and care centers at the Ray Friel Center and on Moodie Drive.
Last week, CHEO launched do-it-yourself test kits for parents at the Brewer Assessment Center. Parents can schedule a time and date to pick up the kit, then return it to the Brewer Arena for processing in a lab.
More than 150 schools in Ottawa are offering take-home tests for students and staff with symptoms of COVID-19 or considered close contact of a confirmed case. Ottawa Public Health says the goal is to have take-out tests available to all schools within a week.
Etches says she is confident the schools will remain open this fall.
“I am confident that we will be able to meet our goal of keeping schools open this fall, just as I am cautiously optimistic about fall in general,” Etches said.
“We see right now that we are keeping things stable. What is important is to keep thinking about how many close contacts we have. The less close social contact we have as we try to prioritize school the better, until we can see immunization protection for children coming on the horizon. “
COVID-19 QUICK TEST IN SCHOOLS
The Ontario Ministry of Health has ordered several agencies to stop providing rapid COVID-19 antigen tests to parents as some parents request surveillance tests in schools.
In Ottawa, Regina Bateson, a mother of three, is pushing the province to improve access to rapid antigenic tests.
However, Dr Etches says Ottawa Public Health wants to use the “benchmark test” in schools to identify high-risk cases and contacts.
“What Ottawa Public Health is working hard with its partners to ensure that when a school-aged child or someone in a school community needs a test for COVID-19 because whether he is showing symptoms or because he is identified as a high risk contact that they have easy access to this test, “Etches said Wednesday.
“In the scenarios we’re talking about, where there is someone who tests positive and high-risk contacts need to be tested, the position of Ottawa Public Health is that we want to use the gold standard test – which is the test. PCR based so we don’t miss anyone. With the rapid antigen test it is not as sensitive and so where someone is at higher risk for COVID we do not recommend this test. “