OTTAWA -- Ottawa's medical officer of health is urging parents of unvaccinated children to limit close contacts, including extra-curricular activities with different groups and sleepovers, to stop transmission and keep COVID-19 outbreaks in schools "rare and limited."

In a letter to parents Friday afternoon, Dr. Vera Etches says her outlook for fall is one of "cautious optimism", noting first dose vaccination rates among residents 12 and older is approaching 90 per cent and hospitalizations remain low.

However, Etches says children under 12 remain unvaccinated and COVID-19 rates are highest in children 5 to 11 years-old.

"I know it can be concerning when you hear of COVID-19 cases in schools. We need your help to keep outbreaks rare and limited, so children and youth do not miss in-person school by having to stay home after an exposure to COVID-19."

Fifty-six of the 286 active cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa on Friday involve children under the age of 10.

Etches says while many parents and guardians are vaccinated, it's still "very important" for families to choose actions that make COVID-19 transmission to children and youth "less likely."

"The most common source of COVID-19 infections for children and youth are household members," writes Dr. Etches.

Etches writes that daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms, physical distancing, limiting the number of close contacts we have, wearing a mask when indoors and getting vaccinated when eligible "continue to be very important."

Etches offers tips to limit close contacts during the fall, especially for unvaccinated children and youth:

  • Limiting the number of extra-curricular activities where there are different groups in close contact
  • Choosing outdoor activities as much as possible
  • Avoiding prolonged and unmasked indoor exposures such as sleepovers
  • Keeping social activities outside of school to smaller groups to make follow-up easier if there is a COVID-19 exposure

As of Friday, there are COVID-19 outbreaks at five elementary and two secondary schools in Ottawa.

Etches urges parents to follow the Ottawa Public Health online screening tool for daily screening.

You can read the full letter to parents and guardians from Dr. Etches on the Ottawa Public Health website.