Some primary care physicians in Ottawa say virtual schooling combined with a lack of COVID-19 testing available for daycare children has forced them to stay home with their kids, and they worry patients will seek care at already busy hospital emergency rooms.
Dr. Derek McLellan is a family physician with two young children at home who both attend daycare. Each time one of them gets sick, he has to cancel at least five days of in-person visits with his patients to isolate with his family because tests are not available to children attending daycare in Ontario.
McLellan, who said the isolation period could be up to 10 days depending on how doctors interpret the regulations around high-risk settings, worries some of his patients could have to go to the emergency room for care.
In Ottawa, there are already hundreds of hospital staff off work due to COVID-19 infections or exposure and emergency rooms are full of patients.
"We need to help people manage things outside of the emergency departments to avoid the burden on our hospital workers," McLellan said, whose children — ages two and three — rarely go two weeks without a cold symptom.
"I've jokingly said that to colleagues ... 'I'll see you guys in April,' because the reality is with the frequency with which my kids get sick, one of them's just going to finish and then the next one is going to start."
Ottawa Public Health said it has heard similar concerns from area physicians and has "escalated" those concerns to the province.
CBC News asked the Ministry of Health for a comment but did not receive a response before publication.
'Need to protect' the hospital during pandemic
Dr. Robyn Mossman, who has five-year-old twins, says she is also worried about the impact virtual learning could have on Ottawa emergency rooms. She has been forced to take time off work to help them with school.
"Our job in primary care is to provide primary care, and during the pandemic is to prevent people from going to the hospital as much as we can because the hospital is what we need to protect in our health-care system," she said.
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The Ontario government is providing free emergency child care for frontline workers with school-aged children during this latest period of remote learning, but Mossman said spots in Ottawa were hard to find the last time this was offered during the pandemic.
"And once I found a spot, it could be 45 minutes to an hour away," she said.
In a memo to city council Thursday, the City of Ottawa said it's still evaluating system capacity to offer temporary emergency child care but "it is anticipated that child care service providers may experience significant staffing shortages ... which will impact the system capacity and spaces available."
The memo also said the province has asked municipalities to prioritize access to "frontline health-care workers providing in-person care."
The approved list of child-care service providers is expected to be added over the weekend, and families are encouraged to continue monitoring Ottawa's Apply for Childcare web page.
Mossman counts herself lucky she can afford private child care, but knows many health-care workers can't.
"Keeping health-care workers at home because schools are closed or because daycares can't have access to PCR tests is not only unacceptable, but it's completely unsustainable for our health-care system," Mossman said.