What the province is telling schools and parents about COVID-19 outbreaks this fall

The government has released its guidelines for public-health units and school boards for managing coronavirus cases among students and teachers as the return to school looms
By John Michael McGrath - Published on Aug 26, 2020
The Ontario government announced today what actions will be taken to contain possible school outbreaks. (iStock/recep-bg)

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When children return to school this fall, some will get sick from COVID-19. This much is a near certainty. On Wednesday, the province made public what it expects from school boards, principals, teachers, public-health units, and parents in order to contain outbreaks and minimize the potential spread.

“Ontario has the safest, most cautious plan in the country right now,” Premier Doug Ford said at Queen’s Park on Wednesday. “We can’t sacrifice the quality of our children’s education — that’s why I want our kids back in the classroom where they belong.”

Parents will be asked to screen their children for symptoms before bringing them to school every day, and teachers will be on the lookout for symptoms in class. Children showing them will not be required to undergo a COVID-19 test, in part because the disease can present in much the same way as more common illnesses, such as the flu. They will, however, be encouraged to get tested.

If a COVID-19 case is discovered, the school and school board will be required to inform parents in much the same way that schools already inform parents about matters such as head lice. Schools and school boards are required to add a COVID-19 section to any websites they currently operate to keep parents updated.

The local public-health unit will be responsible for tracing any outbreaks in a school, as well as for determining whether a student’s cohort, or even the entire school, needs to be sent home for a 14-day period of isolation. The government’s guidance document suggests that a whole-school dismissal would happen only in cases in which a school has several cases of COVID-19 that can’t be traced to one another — a sign that it’s spreading freely among the student body.

If numerous cases are found in a single school, the public-health unit may set up an onsite clinic to test staff and students in order to help find and isolate other cases.

The government’s announcements Wednesday follow the news that the federal government is committing $2 billion to help provinces reopen their schools; Ontario is receiving $763 million — half of that will be released in the fall and the other half in the spring. The province says that $100 million of the money will go to increased public-health measures, and $70 million to hiring new temporary teachers to shrink class sizes.

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