Ottawa Public Health Ready for Back to School, Aiming to Increase Screening Capacity


OTTAWA – Ottawa’s best doctor says Ottawa Public Health is ready for the start of the school year. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said that while PHO is still awaiting further advice from the provincial government, the public health unit is ready for the start of the school year.

“We have the mechanisms to advise schools right now,” said Dr Etches. “Schools that are opening up have a contact person to contact if they have any questions. We know how to do case and contact tracing. We can implement this today if necessary. It doesn’t hold us back.

Dr Etches spoke about back-to-school reminding families and educators that they don’t need to take a COVID-19 test before returning to school.

“Ottawa Public Health is currently recommending testing for people with symptoms of COVID-19. This is the most important reason to get tested, ”she says. “Those who are in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, who is not showing symptoms but who is in close contact; these people should also be tested. ”

If you or your child has no symptoms, Dr Etches says a test is not necessary to return to school.

“Testing your child before returning to school is generally not recommended if he or she is not showing symptoms, as it is extremely unlikely to detect an active COVID-19 infection. For the same reason, teachers and school staff do not need to be tested before returning to school. school, ”she said.

Rather, she emphasized the importance of the daily screening that school boards require before a child, teacher or other staff member can attend school.

PHO has launched a new Back to School webpage with back to school resources at

Nevertheless, the health unit predicts an increase in demand for COVID-19 testing at the start of the school year. Dr Etches said current testing capacity is not under stress at the moment, but added that SPO and its hospital partners are working to bring more testing sites online.

Dr Alan Forster, vice president of innovation and quality at The Ottawa Hospital, said testing centers in Ottawa process around 1,500 tests per day, but they want to increase that number to autumn.

“Right now our capacity is meeting demand and wait times at assessment centers have decreased,” he said. “We are currently strengthening the capacity of our test centers to meet anticipated needs in the fall. In the short term, we plan to go from 2,500 to 3,000 tests per day, then later in the fall, to between 5,000 and 7,000 ”.

This would require finding suitable locations for more testing centers and ensuring that there are enough trained personnel on site to handle the tests.

“There’s a front room where we collect samples (ie assessment centers) and a back room where samples are analyzed in the lab. The two have to happen in parallel, ”said Dr Forster. “As far as the back-end goes, there are a lot of measures right now to acquire equipment, to ensure that we have the connectivity of that equipment, to ensure that we have trained personnel. This will help us increase the ability to analyze the number. samples we expect will pass.

“As for the front-end, we have certain types of facilities involved. We will ensure that these facilities are used as efficiently as possible. With the expansion of facilities, it really comes down to finding the right locations in the city. There are a number of requirements for these, including the flow of inbound and outbound traffic, in terms of air quality for staff, and in terms of electricity, heating and gas supply. water. All of these must be taken into account. ”

Dr Forster also said that assessment centers need the right staff and that there are logistical requirements for recording and sharing test information with SPO, the patient and their healthcare providers. .

Dr Etches said if demand were to exceed capacity, testing may have to revert to a priority model, in which some groups are tested before others.


Dr Etches says the Ontario government’s draft guidelines define a school outbreak as two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school environment with a link between them.

A case will not trigger an outbreak in a school, as is the case with long-term care facilities or daycares, she said.

In the event of a positive COVID-19 case at a school, Dr Etches says the families of the infected child and any close contacts will be contacted first.

“If someone at a school test positive for COVID-19 and your child is a close contact, an Ottawa Public Health case manager will contact you directly to let you know and advise you to access the test. COVID-19 at the right time, ”she said. “Otherwise, the only reason your child is tested for COVID-19 is if they have symptoms compatible with COVID-19.”

If an outbreak occurs in a school, Dr Etches said it would be made public.

“When a person has been confirmed infected with COVID-19 and was contagious while in school, and we identify one of their close contacts in the school environment with COVID -19, this indicates that there is probably transmission in the school environment, ”she said.

“The very first thing to do is identify all close contacts. Then, a public health nurse will phone all parents to let them know about any next steps, including staying home and monitoring symptoms, and taking a COVID test at the appropriate time after the potential exposure. ”

However, she notes that each case should be fully investigated, as there are other ways to spread COVID-19 outside of school.

“There are other risks of transmission in the community that are more important at this point, we know that, so we have to look at all the situations and the context to determine what to do in the school environment”, a she declared.

Dr Etches said contact tracing for infectious diseases in schools is not new, but what is new is the nature of COVID-19.

“It’s COVID and it’s tricky because of how you have contagiousness before people know they’re sick,” she said.

“What’s also new is all of the protections we put in place,” said Dr Etches. “Schools have never had a rigorous screening system to keep people home when they are sick and that will help us. These measures to keep COVID out of schools will help keep other infections out of schools. “


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