Ottawa-Carleton District School set to debate reinstating mandatory mask-wearing as record number of children in Ontario hospitals


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Ottawa’s largest school board is poised to debate whether to require students to wear masks again to slow the spread of respiratory viruses that are sending record numbers of children to hospital.

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The mask debate could be one of the first agendas for Ottawa-Carleton District School Board administrators taking office Nov. 15.

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The new trustee, Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician who has championed public health measures during a pandemic, says she will call for an emergency board meeting as soon as possible.

Seven of the 12 directors elected in the municipal elections this fall are new.

If the emergency meeting takes place, they will be immersed in the emotional debate over masks at school.

Last spring, the Ottawa-Carleton School Board defied Ontario’s Minister of Education and passed a motion requiring students and staff to mask up as the province entered another wave of COVID- 19.

The provincial government removed mask mandates in most public spaces, including schools, on March 21.

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CHEO officials are now advocating for people to wear masks indoors to curb the rapid spread of a triple threat of respiratory viruses: RSV, COVID-19 and influenza. RSV – respiratory syncytial virus – is a common virus that causes respiratory infections in adults and children, but often affects children more severely.

CHEO’s emergency department is overwhelmed and the hospital has opened a second pediatric intensive care unit to handle the overflow of critically ill babies and young children.

As hospitals across the province report similar challenges, there is pressure on the provincial government to reinstate mask mandates.

The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr Kieran Moore, hinted that stricter masking rules may be needed if hospitals struggle, but did not indicate what circumstances would trigger a change from the “wear a mask when it’s good for you” approach.

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“If we see a significant impact on the health system, we will make more and more recommendations on wearing masks to reduce the risk of all these viruses which are transmitted by close personal contact when we go inside and we monitor this data. very closely,” Moore said in an interview with CP24 on Oct. 19.

Ottawa’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, declined to use her powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to enact a local mask mandate in schools or other indoor settings.

In an interview with this newspaper, Etches said she believes there needs to be community buy-in before people start wearing masks again.

« A first step is to try to help people understand why mask use is needed again. »

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Ottawa Public Health « strongly recommends » that people wear masks in indoor or crowded public places.

On Wednesday, OPH posted a message on Twitter saying it would “fully support any business/organization that chooses to implement a mask-wearing policy.”

This leaves schools and post-secondary institutions to make their own decisions.

Carleton University, University of Ottawa and Algonquin College currently recommend, but do not require staff and students to wear masks, with some exceptions for lab work or clinical placements. Officials of these institutions said they were monitoring the situation.

« The university will continue to adapt as needed to ensure everyone’s health and safety and to comply with public health advice, recommendations and legal requirements, » said a statement from Carleton University.

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Last spring, most post-secondary institutions in Ontario imposed temporary mask mandates for varying lengths of time, and many still require masks. School boards have less autonomy and are dependent on the province for all their funding and direction on major issues.

The Ottawa-Carleton council was one of the few in Ontario last spring to vote to reimpose a mask mandate after Education Minister Stephen Lecce said students should have a choice of wear one or not.

Another debate on masks at the Ottawa-Carleton board of directors could take place as early as the end of next week if the directors agree to an emergency meeting.

Administrator Justine Bell said she believes the school board needs to do its part to help curb the spread of viruses creating a crisis at CHEO.

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« If the experts say that for the health of the community we have to mask up, then let’s do it. »

Bell said she would suggest staff justify when and for how long the council should impose temporary mask mandates.

That was a problem last spring, when the board passed a motion on April 12 requiring masks until OPH said they weren’t needed, even though directors had been told that OPH wouldn’t make any recommendations on masking.

That dilemma was resolved when council education director Camille Williams-Taylor sent a letter to parents saying children were no longer required to wear masks from May 30.

Administrator Jennifer Jennekins, who voted in favor of the temporary mask mandate last spring, says she will vote against any proposal presented this fall unless the decision is recommended by OPH.

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“I am not a medical professional. I don’t have expertise in this area, so I trust Ottawa Public Health.

The issue has divided the school community, she said.

A poll conducted by Nanos Research for CTV found that the majority of Canadians surveyed, including 71.4% in Ontario, said they would support or share some support for the return of face mask mandates this fall in public spaces. interiors if the authorities deemed it necessary.

The Nanos poll was conducted between October 30 and November 4.

Ottawa-Carleton’s new administrator, Alysha Aziz, said she favors holding an emergency meeting to discuss the return of mandatory masking and will listen carefully to the debate.

« It’s something I would absolutely consider supporting. »

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Of parents randomly polled outside two Ottawa elementary schools last week, all but one said they would support a temporary return to mandatory masking.

« I think it’s a good idea, » said Fatu Ahmed, who has a first-grade daughter at First Avenue Public School.

This would help the city reduce the high rate of hospitalized children, she said.

« And people would comply if it was a warrant. »

Another parent, Sneha Raychaudhuri, agreed, saying her Grade 1 daughter did not object to a mask when it was mandatory, but that changed when most children in the class stopped wearing them.

“My daughter does not want to wear a mask. She is a follower. She doesn’t want to be the only one. »

Raychaudhuri says she is afraid of the possibility of her two-year-old son contracting the RSV virus, and masking will protect him.

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