COVID-19 Info: Schools

Last updated: 3:30 p.m. EST, Oct. 19, 2020

Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH) is supporting local school administrators with the safe reopening of schools under the Ministry of Education’s Guide to reopening Ontario’s schools.

We are supporting the work of school boards:

For private schools, HPPH has issued:

For more information, contact your child's school board or school administrator.

Many children and youth will benefit from being in school in-person. It is good for their education, for their wellbeing, and for their growth and development.

Role of parents and caregivers

Parents and caregivers must be aware of the possible symptoms of COVID-19 and must learn how to assess their children for symptoms to permit safe attendance at school each day – to protect themselves, other children and staff. 

Complete the daily screening tool below each morning and follow the instructions.

COVID-19 SCHOOL SCREENING  [online version]
OR
COVID-19 SCHOOL SCREENING PDF

Role of schools

Precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at school will be in place, such as cohorting (keeping groups together), increasing hand washing and hand hygiene practices, increasing the frequency of cleaning , and requiring the use of a mask (face coverings) for staff and students in grades 4 and up. Older students are more likely to be able to use masks effectively. See below for more information on masks.

Role of Huron Perth Public Health

HPPH will be responsible for completing all contact tracing and following up with any student or school staff who have tested positive for COVID-19. See below for more information about COVID-19 management in schools.

FAQ

 Screening: checking for COVID-19 Symptoms

Parents must screen their child/ren for symptoms every day before they come to school. Use the provincial tool:

OR

  • COVID-19 SCHOOL SCREENING PDF
  • If your child has any symptoms of COVID-19 or if they are ill, they should not attend school.
    • Follow any instructions given regarding keeping your child home, testing, etc.
    • Remember to report your child’s absence from school.
  • Students who become ill during the day will be isolated and must be picked up from school as soon as possible.
  • Symptomatic students will not be able to use student transportation.
  • Please consult the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 reference document for symptoms (PDF) for other clinical features of COVID-19 and when atypical signs and symptoms of COVID-19 should be considered, particularly in children.
  • If you’re worried your child or any member of your household has been exposed to COVID-19 or has symptoms, use the Ontario COVID-19 self-assessment tool. You will get a recommendation on what to do next.

Please consult your local school board or school for further details.

My child has a runny nose, what should I do?

If your child’s only symptom is a runny nose, you should keep your child home and monitor their symptoms as you would in any other year. When they feel better, they are ready to go back to school/child care and no COVID-19 testing is needed.

If they get worse or develop other symptoms, you should contact their health care provider for more advice. Mild symptoms known to persist in young children (e.g., runny nose) may be ongoing at time of return to school/child care if other symptoms have been resolved. 

Who in my family needs to be tested along with my child? 
If your child has been identified as needing a test and everyone else in the family is well, no testing of other family members is needed. If your child tests positive for COVID-19, the local public health unit will contact you/your child and make a plan for additional testing of all close contacts. 
Do I need a note from a doctor before my child goes back to school/child care or a copy of a negative test result? 
No, you do not need a note from your doctor or proof of a negative test before your child returns to school/ childcare.

I need more information to feel confident in my assessment, what do I do?

If you need additional information about COVID-19 or have a question specific to your child and their health, please contact your health care provider.
Does my child need to wear a mask?

This information will be updated as the situation or any recommendations change.

  • Students in Grades 4 to 12 are required to wear a face mask indoors on school property.
  • Students may wear their own non-medical masks, and non-medical masks will also be made available for students.
  • Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear a face covering in indoor spaces if they are tolerated and able to wear them properly.
  • We encourage families to work with their children to ensure they are able to put on and remove their masks safely on their own.
  • Avoid the use of any mask lanyards or mask clips that could become a strangulation hazard.
  • Masks should be stored in something breathable like a paper bag, fabric bag or envelope that does not retain moisture, if the mask will be worn again.
  • Pack several masks each day and send your child to school with two bags for masks, one labelled "clean" and one "dirty."
  • Instruct your child to put their mask in the "dirty" bag if it gets wet or soiled, and to use a new, clean mask.
  • Wash the masks at the end of each day before reuse.
  • Teachers are required to wear medical masks and school-based staff who are regularly in close contact with students will be required to wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE).

Mask Exemptions 

The Huron Perth and Area Ontario Health Team Physician Advisory Council has released a joint statement on mask exemptions, which has been endorsed by Huron Perth Public Health.

According to the statement, there are exceptional circumstances which do warrant consideration of a mask exemption. These include:

  • people, especially children, with severe sensory processing disorders
  • children less than 2 years of age
  • children less than 5 years of age (cognitively or developmentally) who refuse to wear a face covering and cannot be persuaded to
  • people with PTSD who are triggered by a face covering
  • patients with facial deformities that are incompatible with masking
  • extreme agoraphobia/asphyxia phobia (which is longstanding predating COVID 19)
  • people with cognitive impairment, intellectual deficiency or autism spectrum disorder for who wearing a face covering will cause severe distress or disorganization
  • people unable to apply or remove a face covering without help
  • people with accommodations under the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disabilities Act (that would pertain to wearing a face covering i.e. immobilization in a wheelchair would not qualify)

If you believe, based upon the above criteria, that you or your child warrant an exemption, please use this document to help you in further discussion with your school. If you have further concerns, please contact your family doctor’s office to discuss the issue with them or a trained counsellor.

Schools are discouraged from asking for proof of exemption.

 

Please Note:

  • Asthma and COPD (including chronic bronchitis and emphysema) are not contraindications to mask wearing; in fact, having asthma or COPD may put you at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 and make wearing a mask that much more important.
  • Discomfort caused by the mask is not an exemption.
  • Acne caused by the mask is not an exemption.
  • Patients wearing oxygen can wear a mask over top of their nasal cannula. It does not impair their ability to continue to wear their oxygen, nor lower their oxygen levels.  

If you choose to not wear a face covering and do not qualify for an exemption, we recommend you:

  • try different mask formats and materials, to find one you feel is more tolerable
  • try using the mask for short periods of time around home, slowly increasing the duration of wear at home until you can tolerate its use
  • see a counsellor for support, tips, advice, desensitization, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Masks with exhalation valves should NOT be used because they allow infectious respiratory droplets to spread outside the mask and thus do not protect others from COVID-19 and do not limit the spread of the virus. 

Learn more about masks and face coverings.

I’m concerned that kids in my child’s classroom aren’t wearing masks or staying 2m apart, who should I call?
If you are concerned about whether the proper public health precautions are being taken in your child’s class, please reach out to your child’s teacher or school principal with your concerns. If you would like to find out more about public health measures that help stop the spread of COVID-19, contact us at 1-888-221-2133.
How will COVID-19 in schools be monitored?

Learn how reports of COVID-19 symptoms in staff, students and parents will be monitored and responded to.

See COVID-19 cases in schools and daycares, a list maintained by the Ministry of Education.

Please note that to protect the privacy of individuals, Huron Perth Public Health will not routinely comment about a school if a case is confirmed in a school setting. HPPH will conduct timely case and contact follow up and work closely with the school to determine next steps. If individuals are identified as close contact of a case in a school setting, Public Health will contact them/their parent or guardian directly and provide direction.

Further information:

Operational guidance: COVID-19 management in schools

What do I do if my child receives a positive COVID-19 test result?

You do not need to contact your school, your child’s teacher, people your child has been in contact with, or your employer if your child receives a positive result. Wait to receive direction from Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH).

If you receive a positive result for your child, keep your child at home and call Huron Perth Public Health at 1-888-221-2133 if you haven’t already received a call from us.

HPPH will provide you with your next steps and guidance, including directions for your household members.

If you receive the results after hours or on the weekend, call 1-888-221-2133 and follow the directions to reach the answering service. We will get back to you within 24 hours. In the meantime, please isolate your child at home.

Once HPPH has spoken with you and your child, we will start our contact tracing process. This involves getting in touch with people who have had close contact with your child during a certain time frame.

A close contact is someone who was closer than 2 metres/6 feet for more than 15 minutes, or is living in the same home.

I heard someone in my child’s class has COVID-19. Should I keep my child home?
If your child was identified as a close contact of a confirmed case, HPPH will investigate and be in touch with you about the next steps for your child, which could include self isolating or self monitoring for symptoms.

If you have not heard from HPPH, you may have heard inaccurate information or your child was not considered a close contact. If your child was not considered a close contact, they may continue to go to school, while continuing to practice physical distancing, wearing a mask, and washing hands often.

I’ve received a letter stating that someone in my child’s class or school has COVID-19.

If the school or HPPH communicates that someone in your child’s class or school has COVID-19, then HPPH is investigating and will provide direction as needed. Here is how the process works:

What HPPH does:

  • Public Health contacts any of the individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 along with the school.
  • Public Health contacts all of the people (including students and staff) who have had close contact with the individual(s) who tested positive during the previous two weeks.
  • HPPH provides direction to close contacts and the school to protect students and staff, and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What the school does:

  • The school provides HPPH with information about who the student was in contact with while at school (including before and after school care) and on the school bus during the previous two weeks.
  • The school cleans and disinfects all areas in the school where the individuals may have been.
  • The school works with HPPH to identify any additional ways to protect all students and staff, and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What should you do?

  • Continue to monitor and screen your child for symptoms of COVID-19 every morning.
  • Use the Ministry of Health’s screening tool:
  • If you receive a call from HPPH, follow the guidance provided.

If a student is positive for COVID-19 will the school close down?

Individual cases and contained outbreaks may not necessarily result in a school closure. An outbreak in a school will be declared if there are two or more cases of COVID-19 in a 14-day period that have some link with each other, and with evidence that infection occurred at the school. HPPH will assist the school and families in taking measures to contain and stop the outbreak.

If an outbreak is declared in a school, HPPH will assist in determining which cohort(s) may be sent home, or if a partial or full school closure is required based on the scope of the outbreak.  If there is a partial or full school closure, the outbreak doesn’t necessarily need to be over to re-open the school.

Schools and school boards are required to communicate details regarding any closures to their school communities, so please follow any communications your child’s school or school board distributes.

Should I get my child tested for COVID-19 even if they’re not sick?

We understand that some caregivers may feel very anxious and want to test their child just to make sure they don’t have COVID-19. However, if there are no symptoms and there is no close link to a confirmed case (as decided by HPPH), then there is no practical benefit to getting a child tested. The information received from a test provides limited information about a single point in time. A negative result does not rule out that someone is incubating disease, and may provide false reassurances. A positive result in an asymptomatic person may not reflect active infection and lead to unnecessary measures.

Furthermore, testing people with no symptoms puts undue pressure on local testing capacity and delays the results for people that actually do have symptoms or are considered close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case. Delays in receiving results can pose significant risk to facilities that may be battling true outbreaks.

Getting a COVID-19 test would be appropriate and strongly recommended only in the following two scenarios:
1. Public Health has let you know that you are a close contact to someone who has COVID-19, based on a thorough risk assessment completed only by Public Health. Deciding who is a close contact is a decision that can only be made by Public Health. This decision as to who is a close contact cannot be made by your health care provider or school official(s).
2. Your health care provider has told you to get tested because you have COVID-19 related symptoms.

If neither of these situations exists, testing would not be suggested, and in fact, HPPH recommends against it at this time.

Supporting mental health for students, parents and educators

Please visit COVID-19 and Mental Health for resources and information to support students, parents and educators with their mental health during this time.

More information

For posters and other resources, please visit our COVID-19 response resources page.

COVID-19 and Back to School | Dr. Dawn Bodish, PHD, Canada Research Chair in Aging and Immunity

Facebook Live: Return to School | Recorded Sept. 9, 2020

 View the Sept. 9 Facebook Live transcript