August 25, 2020 – Message from Ottawa Public Health
In advance of the reopening of schools in the next few weeks, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is providing an overview of the roles and responsibilities in response to COVID-19 within the school setting, as well as sharing information about the work done thus far with community partners.
OPH works with local school boards to implement provincial standards and guidance to support the reopening of schools. Alongside our school board partners, OPH continues to address ongoing questions and concerns of families, school staff and students regarding COVID-19 and will provide the most current information possible. Residents of Ottawa must continue to do their part to keep transmission in the community low to help stop COVID-19 from entering schools in the first place. Data has shown children who test positive for COVID-19 are contracting it from adult family members – mostly parents.
Ultimately, the primary goal for all is to make the return to school as safe as possible, balancing the risk of COVID-19 transmission with reducing other harms to the well-being of students, families and staff.
Role of Ottawa Public Health
- Support School Boards reopening plans by providing public health information and counsel on implementing provincial standards and guidance.
- Facilitate knowledge exchange through various platforms with stakeholders and the school community while ensuring ongoing engagement and active listening.
- Provide infection prevention and control advice to schools for both in-school and transportation scenarios.
- Manage situations where people have contracted COVID-19 and outbreaks, including providing guidance to schools on confirming and controlling outbreaks.
- Support testing and surveillance of the school population as per provincial direction.
- Ensure ongoing support to schools via a dedicated Public Health School Nurse. The Public Health School Nurse, assigned to an area of schools, will respond to school specific inquiries and visit the schools regularly.
- Supply age-appropriate resources to schools on COVID-19.
- Develop and deliver Mental Wellness Support, school resources and tools on topics such as resiliency, positive coping skills, and stress and anxiety reduction.
- Facilitate linkages to resources and community supports available for school staff, students and their families.
- Inform residents and promote strategies to reduce stigma related to COVID-19.
Role of Ottawa School Boards
- Develop and implement reopening plans following guidelines and recommendations from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Ottawa Public Health (OPH).
- Communicate with the school community about COVID-19 prevention measures and how people who have contracted the virus and outbreaks will be handled, in collaboration with OPH.
- Support OPH and other stakeholders with the investigation of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, contacts, and outbreaks.
- Ensure accurate records of staff and students’ attendance, as well as up-to-date contact information for staff and students that can be accessed in a timely manner for investigations and communications.
- Facilitate training of school staff with respect to outbreak prevention and control measures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Public Health Recommendations
As of August 18, OPH has provided the following recommendations to local school boards:
- Equity in reopening across priority populations – recommending in-class 5 day / week understanding that this creates concerns.
- The mental health needs of students and school staff are a high priority.
- Establish partnerships and processes between school boards, school principals, public health and broader health system.
- There are multiple protective layers involved in keeping COVID-19 transmission in schools as low as possible, not limited exclusively to reducing class and cohort sizes, but also keeping cases low in the community overall, screening of students and staff to allow for people who are ill to stay home, using masks, distancing practices, adapting schedules and student flow, and maintaining vigilance with hand hygiene, as well as responding rapidly to exclude close contacts when someone tests positive for COVID-19.
OPH continues to have regular conversations with Ottawa’s four school boards to review specific questions, feedback and plans. Planning for a variety of scenarios has taken place, including if an individual has symptoms, if an individual has a positive test for COVID-19, and if there is an outbreak where it appears the virus was transmitted in the school. We are actively preparing for these scenarios, seeking parental input, and ensuring school administration are equipped with the information, procedures and protocols they need to follow.
Communication to students, families and school staff
Clear, accurate and timely communication is a fundamental requirement for students, families and staff throughout the school year. School boards are primarily responsible for their communication to students, families and their staff regarding their COVID-19 policies and procedures.
OPH continues to provide support to school boards in delivering timely information and risk assessment should someone test positive at a school.
OPH will contact individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or come into close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. OPH will reach out to individuals as per regular contact tracing protocol. OPH will support school administrations when an outbreak occurs at a school to communicate appropriately with students, families, or staff.
Throughout the year, OPH will continue to participate on an ad hoc basis and/or by request, in virtual meetings or town halls with community partners to answer questions from the school community.
OPH is continuously developing new resources regarding COVID-19 for the reopening of schools, this page is updated regularly with resources for students, parents and school staff.
• Ottawa Public Health: OttawaPublicHealth.ca/Coronavirus.
• Ministry of Education: Guide to Reopening Ontario’s Schools
• Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 School Resources: Supporting schools during COVID-19
Public Health Nurses
OPH is using funding provided by the province to hire 36 nurses to serve schools in the region. These nurses have been assigned to approximately 10 specific schools and will be available both virtually and regularly in the school setting to help address questions from the school community.
Our nurses will provide each principal a checklist to ensure their plans and practices are implemented in such a way to meet our expectations of infection prevention and control. As OPH liaisons, our nurses will be available to the principals and will be present regularly in the schools.
OPH is currently in the process of hiring and staffing these positions.
Throughout the summer, OPH worked closely with Ottawa’s four public school boards in preparation for the fall. OPH meets regularly with representatives to answer questions and concerns and provide recommendations on school plans where appropriate.
School boards must adhere to the regulations and processes as set out by the provincial government. OPH does not have any authority to revise, change or approve any health and safety regulations within the schools.
Masks in School Settings
In Ontario, students in Grades 4 to 12 are required to wear non-medical or cloth masks indoors in school, including in hallways and during classes. Students in kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in indoor spaces.
The Province will provide medical masks and eye protection (for example, face shields) for all teachers and other staff of school boards and recommends that all school-based staff should wear masks and eye protection, with reasonable exceptions for medical conditions.
OPH has developed several resources for the community to access regarding obtaining, and properly wearing a mask. Information is available on our website and has been shared with school partners.
OPH does not provide medical exemptions for masks. We are anticipating provincial guidance on what constitutes a “reasonable exception” to staff wearing masks. Ottawa residents who are unable to buy a mask can request support through the Human Needs Task Force by calling 3-1-1.
Pending the release of the provincial guidance related to outbreak management in schools, outbreaks will be reported on OPH’s website, similar to the reporting of outbreaks at long-term care homes.
The Champlain Health Regional Incident Command’s COVID-19 Response Committee (CCRC) and Ottawa Public Health (OPH) are working together to implement the Ontario Ministry of Health’s policies on testing priorities across Ottawa.
OPH investigates people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and ensures that those who need testing are able to access it through healthcare partners.
The CCRC staffs, operates and manages the Assessment Centre at Brewer Park Arena and the two (2) COVID Care Clinics (Moodie and Heron locations) through local hospitals. In addition, the CCRC is responsible for organizing and administering testing priorities for the region.
Any questions related to the Assessment Centre or Care Clinic sites – the policies or procedures at the sites, professional conduct of staff at the sites, the type of tests administered, availability of test results, hours of operation, maintenance, line management/volume, or any other aspect of the testing sites – should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The provincial government has announced over $23 million to provide testing capacity to help keep schools safe. Further details regarding this funding are expected by the Province in the coming weeks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a rise in stigma and prejudice against those who have the virus or those who are perceived to be likely to have it. Our actions as public health, which are essential for prevention and mitigation of COVID-19 within our community, also have the potential to exacerbate stigma and worsen pre-existing social inequities.
Stigma can undermine social cohesion and prompt social isolation of groups, which might contribute to a situation where the virus is more likely to spread, and this can result in more difficulties controlling a COVID-19 outbreak. OPH is working to educate and inform residents and community leaders on best practices when discussing COVID-19 to reduce the likelihood of stigma and prejudice in schools.
OPH will continue to support school boards throughout the process of reopening. The Province is set to provide school boards and local public health units with guidance related to outbreaks in school settings and testing within the next few days, and plans will be updated accordingly.
Resources for students, families and school boards regarding COVID-19 and the return to school can be found at ottawapublichealth.ca.