As kids head back to school, Etches says staying home when sick is vital

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Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, in March 2020. She says that as classes resume this week and next, Ottawa Public Health continues to strongly recommend that people mask up indoors.  (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press - image credit)
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, in March 2020. She says that as classes resume this week and next, Ottawa Public Health continues to strongly recommend that people mask up indoors. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press - image credit)

The most important thing people can do to limit the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses this fall is to screen themselves for illness before leaving the house and stay home if they have any symptoms at all, according to the city's medical officer of health.

With children in Ottawa's French school boards headed back to class this week, and English boards resuming next week, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) anticipates that infections of COVID and other viruses will rise.

Ontario's Ministry of Education has said that masks aren't mandatory in schools, and Ottawa's school boards have said masks are optional for students and staff, but OPH is still "strongly recommending" them in indoor settings and for people who are high risk, Dr. Vera Etches told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday.

COVID-19 levels are lower than they were during July's peak but are still high, she added.

Kids in crowds before and after school, visiting friends, indoor sports and extracurriculars will all contribute to an anticipated rise in infections, not just of COVID-19 but other viruses as well.

"All of these things come together, and so it's not necessarily the classroom itself that is the source of more COVID transmission, but all of the activities that come with going to school," Etches said.

WATCH | Students and staff happy to be headed back to school:

Screen, screen screen

It's up to families to screen themselves for any symptoms before leaving the house. A provincial online tool is available, questionnaires can be printed and hung by the door, and checklists can be left at the breakfast table, Etches suggested.

"That's the first step we do for each other, to try to minimize the disruption with illness in schools," she said.

"Children have had a lot of disruption, and we want them to be able to stay in school and stay well."

WATCH | Screen your kids, says Etches:

Etches added that there will likely be another round of vaccine offered in the fall, which will help as long as people come out to be boosted.

Rapid antigen tests will be offered in schools, and some pharmacies and grocery stores are also still providing them, she said.

Isolation rules right now

If you have COVID symptoms or test positive on a rapid test, isolation instructions vary depending on your age, vaccination status and health risks.

In general, people have to isolate for five days from the onset of symptoms and wear a mask in public for a total of 10 days after the onset of symptoms, Etches said.

Detailed rules can be found on this OPH website, and Etches said people are asked to keep coming back to it as provincial guidance changes.

Etches also added that families who find it difficult to have to stay home can call 311 for support.