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Code Orange: Eastern Ontario Health Unit joins Ottawa in the ‘Orange-Restrict’ level for COVID-19 restrictions

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OTTAWA — Bars, restaurants, gyms, personal care settings and other businesses in Alexandria, Cornwall, Casselman, Clarence-Rockland, Hawkesbury and other areas of eastern Ontario face new restrictions today, as the region moves to the “orange” zone.

But the region’s medical officer of health expects the region to return to the “Yellow-Protect” zone shortly as COVID-19 numbers continue to decline.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit joins Ottawa in the “Restrict” zone, following changes to the thresholds for the COVID-19 colour-coded system in Ontario on Friday.

Under the “Restrict” zone regulations, last call for bars and restaurants is 9 p.m., establishments must close at 10 p.m., and there is a maximum of six people allowed at each table.  Other restrictions include no spectators at sporting events and personal care services are prohibited from offering services requiring the removal of face coverings.

Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis told reporters on Friday that the region’s COVID-19 numbers have improved since Nov. 9, the data Ontario health officials used to determine the region would move into the “orange” zone.

“Despite my call at 4 o’clock (Friday) telling them that look our new data shows we’re in yellow, they said, ‘no, we want you to stay in restrict to make sure that your trends are downwards and then we can revaluate next week to go up,'” Dr. Roumeliotis about his phone call with Ontario health officials.

Dr. Roumeliotis said the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s COVID-19 cases per 100,000 and positivity rates have fallen into the “yellow” zone following the spike in October and early November. Dr. Roumeliotis said the positivity rate has fallen to 1.3 per cent.

The thresholds for the Restrict level are a weekly incidence rate of 25 to 39.9 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 1.3 to 2.4 per cent. The threshold to move into the “Red-Control” zone includes a weekly incidence rate of 40 cases per 100,000 and a positivity rate of 2.5 per cent.

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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