Trustee to push for mask mandate in Ottawa's largest school board

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth is a family doctor in the Glebe and recently elected school board trustee with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. She plans to introduce a motion on Nov. 15, 2022 to hold an emergency meeting to vote on a mask mandate at schools.  (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth is a family doctor in the Glebe and recently elected school board trustee with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. She plans to introduce a motion on Nov. 15, 2022 to hold an emergency meeting to vote on a mask mandate at schools. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

A newly elected school board trustee plans to introduce a motion Tuesday to call for an emergency meeting to vote on bringing back mandatory masks at the city's largest school board.

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in the Glebe, ran on a platform to bring back masks in schools when she was voted in as the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee for Zone 9 in October.

Kaplan-Myrth believes the majority of her fellow school board trustees support the idea of holding an emergency meeting on masks. She wants to see masks back on the faces of students and teachers within days if possible.

"This should happen as a matter of urgency. It is now that we need to act. Not in a week, not in a month."

Currently, the province is dealing with a triple threat of COVID, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, which can cause breathing difficulties for babies and toddlers. CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, has opened a second pediatric intensive care unit to address the unprecedented surge of patients, most under four years of age.

Earlier on Monday, Ontario's top doctor strongly recommended wearing masks indoors, including at schools, but stopped short on calling for a mandate.

Dr. Kieran Moore emphasized the importance of taking multiple steps to stop the spread of respiratory illnesses that are overwhelming children's hospitals in Ontario. Getting the flu shot and wearing masks in homes with young children is key right now, he said.

"Mandatory masking in a certain venue may help decrease the risk at the community level, but I'm very concerned about our children and protecting our children right now and it's best that we protect them through masking in the home environment and in any social situation," said Moore.

While Moore supports the idea of masks in schools, he said he did not have jurisdiction over school boards.

James Arthur Gekiere/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images
James Arthur Gekiere/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images

Kaplan-Myrth said the province failed children by not implementing a mask mandate in multiple public settings before the cold and flu season began to take hold.

"It should be the same in workplaces. It should be the same on public transportation, in all essential services and that is on the government. They should have implemented [mask mandates]. Now every organization has to do it themselves."

The incoming school board trustee wants masks worn in schools throughout the winter and believes the board should consider bringing back masks every cold and flu season, in perpetuity.

"I think it would be reasonable to assume that we should be masking throughout the winter and that's really not a hardship," she said.

Masks in Ottawa remain mandatory in long-term care and retirement homes as well as Ottawa Public Health clinics, according to the agency. Ottawa Public Health says it supports any business or organization that wants to implement a mask policy.

In a recent letter to parents, the Ottawa Catholic School Board said it continues to make masks available to students and staff.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board voted at a meeting in April to require masks indoors amid a sixth wave of COVID-19.