The Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) and the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit will be working closely with local schools and school boards to manage any cases of COVID-19 as schools reopen this month.
Both public health units have already begun working with the school boards to implement the Ministry of Education Guidelines for childcare and school reopening to minimize transmission of COVID-19. Teams of public health nurses have been mobilized to manage contact tracing, case management and follow-up with schools and families. Schools also have heightened infection control procedures that would be activated in the event of a case of COVID-19.
“Our priority is to make the school year as safe as possible for everyone,” says Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health for the EOHU. “With the return to in-person classes, it’s possible that we may see some cases of COVID-19 at our local schools. However, parents should be assured that plans are in place to quickly identify cases and their contacts, along with infection prevention measures that will help protect students and minimize spread of the virus in schools.”
If there’s a confirmed case of COVID-19 at a school, public health will immediately begin to work with the school to investigate any possible exposures and to trace and isolate contacts of the individual. Families will be notified about the case as soon as possible and provided with information and instructions. Parents of children who may have been exposed to the case will be contacted directly by public health and given specific directives. The status of cases and outbreaks will also be posted on the websites of school boards and their respective health units, as well as schools that have a website.
The school will also activate infection control procedures including cleaning and disinfection of the classroom and any other affected areas of the school. If there’s an outbreak at the school, public health will determine through its investigation whether class cancellations or school closure is necessary.
Dr. Roumeliotis acknowledges that many families are anxious about the school reopening, and that keeping parents informed is a key part of the reopening strategy. “We understand that timely and transparent communication is important both for helping to alleviate worry, and for keeping our students as healthy as possible.” He adds that while every effort will be made to keep the school community informed, there is also an obligation to protect the privacy of any individuals who are confirmed to have COVID-19. He asks that families avoid speculating or sharing rumours about possible cases, especially online. “It’s important to remember that children’s privacy needs to be respected. Our kids deserve kindness and compassion, not to be stigmatized.”
Dr. Roumeliotis also points out that with the return to school, there will be an inevitable return to the spread of common infections such as colds and flu that occur every school year. Many of these infections include respiratory symptoms that can be similar to those of COVID-19. “We’re urging everyone to remain vigilant for possible COVID-19 symptoms, and to stay home if they are ill or experiencing symptoms,” he says. “However, we are also cautioning against jumping to conclusions that all respiratory symptoms or absences from school are related to COVID-19, since in many cases symptoms may be due to other causes.”
Public health and school boards are asking parents to use an anonymous online screening tool (also available in printable version) each day to determine whether or not their children have symptoms or should attend school. The tool also provides direction about what to do if anyone is experiencing symptoms. Teachers, school staff and any other individuals entering the school will also be asked to self-screen using the COVID-19 self-assessment tool, and to remain at home if they have any symptoms.
For more information on COVID-19 and the reopening of schools, please visit the EOHU’s website at www.EOHU.ca/coronavirus and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit’s website at www.healthunit.org. To view your local school board’s return-to-school plan, visit their website:
- Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB): www.ucdsb.on.ca
- Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO): www.cdsbeo.on.ca
- Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l’Est ontarien (CSDCEO): www.csdceo.ca
- Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO): www.cepeo.on.ca