Back to School
OPH welcomes the announcement by the Province to reopen in-person learning at schools in Ottawa starting February 1, 2021. This reinforces the importance of school attendance for the well-being of children and communities and aligns with evidence that the public health measures within school settings have been successful in preventing widespread transmission of COVID-19 in schools.
Opening schools does not mean that Ottawa is in the clear or that we are ready to ease up on other public health measures and provincial restrictions in place. Now more than ever, we need to continue to reduce transmission in the community. This includes ensuring children do not come into contact with other children outside of the school setting, even for organized activities such as sports, clubs or socializing. Gatherings before and after school, with close contact between students without masks, are a key blind spot to address.
In other words, this is still “stay at home” except for students to participate in school – an essential service for them.
We have seen before that increased screening of children returning to school reveals more COVID-19 in our community. The OPH team is anticipating a number of students testing positive as they return to using the daily screening tool and realize that they meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing based on having symptoms. This will in turn have an impact on families. We expect this rise of positive tests to stabilize once students are back in school and in an environment that has demonstrated the public health measures are successful in preventing further transmission. For now, parents should start getting back into the routine of daily screening of children.
If a person tests positive in a school setting, the cohort system allows us to rapidly identify the people who are considered close contacts and those close contacts are removed from the school setting to isolate for 14 days.
OPH is taking steps to adjust our school team capacity, alert testing partners to increase capacity to test children, and is increasing communications to schools and families to prevent transmission and handle the situation as well as possible. Additionally, plans for rapid testing are underway and will be prioritized to improve access to testing where there are a large number of high-risk contacts, as well as when we are seeking more information about potential transmission in a school. And, the Province has strengthened their direction on masks which are now mandatory for students in grade 1 and older. (Remember: If you live in Ottawa and do not have the means to purchase a mask, call 3-1-1 or email the Human Needs Task Force at HNTF@ottawa.ca to find out how to get one). In addition to everyone doing their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at the community level, these measures will help ensure as safe a return to school as possible.
We acknowledge the tireless efforts of both teachers and parents who have been working incredibly hard during this stressful time. We know this hasn’t been easy and we appreciate everything you have done for our community. School staff and parents can find resources and support on our Supporting Schools during COVID-19 page and our Parenting in Ottawa website.
Rideau Canal Opening
As some of you may have heard, the National Capital Commission will be opening the Rideau Canal to the public this coming weekend. OPH strongly advocates for getting outside and being active as part of taking care of our mental health.
OPH also has portals with information regarding COVID-19 translated into Arabic and Somali.
Vaccine Website and FAQs
OPH has developed both a COVID-19 Vaccine webpage as well as a Frequently Asked Questions webpage to help provide residents with information on vaccine roll-out, availability, and distribution.
Resources on Masks
This past Wednesday, Council adopted a motion to extend the Temporary Mandatory Mask By-Law until April 29, 2021. As such, OPH would like to take this opportunity to share information and resources on masks.
Wearing a mask around others who are not part of your household is crucial to reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, it’s also important that masks be worn properly. Masks are not all made the same and different styles of masks may fit differently. Finding the right mask that fits your face – covering both your nose and mouth – and learning how to wear your mask, is critical.
To wear a mask properly, OPH offers the following guidance:
- Immediately wash your hands before putting the mask on, before adjusting it, before taking it off and after taking it off. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash your hands.
- Make sure your mask allows for easy breathing and completely and comfortably covers the bridge of your nose, covers your mouth, and fits snugly without gapping under your chin or against the sides of your face.
- Make sure your mask is secured to your head with ties or ear loops without the need to adjust frequently.
- If your mask has pleats, ensure that the pleats on the outside are facing down.
- If your mask has a metal strip over the nose, gently mold it over the bridge of your nose to ensure a close fit.
- Replace the mask as soon as it becomes damp, dirty, damaged or if it has shrunk after washing and drying.
- Do not share your mask with others, even within your own household.
- Do not wear your mask around your neck, on your forehead, under your nose, only on your nose, on your chin, one ear, or on your arm.
OPH has created a poster and video to assist residents in learning how to wear their mask effectively. Please share these resources with your networks:
The months of December, January and February are the coldest months of the Ottawa winter and it’s difficult to avoid the cold weather, especially when getting outside is so important for our mental health during these challenging times. OPH encourages residents to still get outside for exercise during frosty temperatures while keeping in mind some safety measures to avoid frostbite.
Frostbite is defined as damage of the skin from exposure to cold weather. City of Ottawa Paramedics remind everyone that extremely cold weather can lead to serious complications, the worst being amputation. Injuries from frostbite are extremely common yet preventable. OPH would suggest individuals follow the tips outlined below to help prevent frostbite:
- Keep extra mittens and gloves in the car, house or school bag.
- Wear larger sized mittens over your gloves.
- Wear a hat.
- Wear a neck warmer to protect the chin, lips and cheeks. They are all extremely susceptible to frostbite.
- Wear waterproof winter boots with room for an extra layer of socks. Wear two pairs of socks – wool if possible.
- Make sure you are able to wiggle your toes in your boots; air space around your toes acts as insulation.
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
If individuals think they or a loved one might have suffered from frostbite, OPH recommends seeking medical attention right away. For additional information on frostbite, individuals can visit the OPH frostbite webpage.
Dr. Vera Etches
- Vera Etches MD, MHSc, CCFP, FRCPC
- Medical Officer of Health
- Ottawa Public Health
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