How some teachers feel working in school as COVID-19 cases rise

Teachers in Ottawa have mixed feelings when it comes to stepping foot in classrooms as COVID-19 case counts surge. 

Ontario declared its third provincewide state of emergency Wednesday, and is now under a strict stay-at-home order. In Ottawa, nearly 400 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the past two days and the city has now tied or surpassed some previous records, including hospitalizations.

Schools, however, are remaining open. 

Rachel Inch, who teaches Grade 8 at Broadview Public School, says that doesn’t make sense. On average she comes in contact with about 70 students each day between her two classes and lunch duty.

Inch said she feels like “a sitting duck” and thinks schools should close down for at least a few weeks. 

“Even with the procedures that we have in place, there’s just so many openings and the virus is just looking for the next host,” Inch said.

“As soon as it finds it, it’s going to go like dominos,” she added. 

Inch said her school hasn’t experienced an outbreak but as the variants of concern take hold in Ottawa, she is worried that streak won’t last. 

“It feels different this time around and the numbers are going up so quickly,” Inch said. “This variant is more scary because it’s more contagious, it’s more deadly, and it’s affecting young people.”

Measures don’t go far enough: teacher

The provincial government announced education workers in Ottawa who work with children with special needs can receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during the April break.

The government said eligibility for other education workers in the city will expand as vaccine supply allows. 

Krista Sarginson works at St. Leonard School in Manotick, which is currently closed due to an outbreak. She said the new measures announced by the province are good news, but don’t go far enough. 

a hand holding a toothbrush: Some teachers in Ottawa want to be put on the priority list for vaccinations.
© Bob Edme/The Associated Press Some teachers in Ottawa want to be put on the priority list for vaccinations.

Sarginson said there are too many grey areas when it comes to contact tracing within schools and that all teachers and education workers need to be prioritized for vaccine eligibility. 

“Sometimes I think you’re seeing cases that are not being connected that very well might be connected,” Sarginson said. 

While she doesn’t want to see schools close for the rest of the year, she did express relief that her school is closed for now. 

“It appeared to be spreading really quickly and may or may not be the variant,” Sarginson said. “It hit different this time.”

In-school transmission low: Etches

Ottawa’s chief medical officer of health said keeping schools open is the priority and that the goal is to reduce community transmission of the virus. Dr. Vera Etches told CBC that in-school transmission is still quite low. 

Teacher Luke Simoneau said his colleagues who feel unsafe deserve to be heard, however, he agrees that schools need to stay open. 

Simoneau teaches high school students at Cairine Wilson Secondary School and is concerned students would gather in big groups without the structure and normalcy provided when schools are open.

“Which is what we’ve been seeing in community transmission among adults … I think we would see it at least as much, if not more amongst teenagers,” Simoneau said.

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