Ontario releases new COVID-19 guidance to manage school outbreaks
The "playbook" gives instructions on what will happen if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a school
TORONTO — Ontario has released new guidance to parents and educators to help prevent and manage COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, including provisions that will not require ill students to take a test for the virus before returning to class.
Premier Doug Ford announced the new guidance on Aug. 26, saying it had been developed by health-care experts to ensure a safe return of students to class next month.
The “playbook” gives instructions on what will happen if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a school, and how school officials and the local public health unit will work to stop the spread of the illness.
“We have robust plans for schools and school boards so that when a case or an outbreak occurs everyone knows what to do so we can quickly find, isolate and contain the virus,” Ford said.
The new document from the government comes as school boards, teachers’ unions and some parents have expressed anxiety about the province’s reopening plan.
Those groups have called for smaller class sizes to encourage physical distancing at the elementary level. They want to hire more teachers and lease additional space to create new classrooms.
The new guidance does not lower class sizes but maps out what will be done if a student or staff display symptoms or tests positive for the virus, or there is an outbreak at a school.
The guidance also applies to the province’s child care centres and before and after school programs.
The plan emphasizes prevention, with parents asked to screen their children daily for COVID-19 symptoms and keep them home if any are discovered.
Teachers and principals will be asked to isolate any child that develops symptoms at school and send the child home when a parent can pick them up.
An ill child will not be allowed to return home on the school bus.
Public health officials will be given discretion to send entire cohorts of students home from school, or potentially close schools, if they feel that is the best way to manage an outbreak.
Schools will also be required to advise parents of any positive tests while not identifying the student. Schools must set up a COVID-19 advisory section on their websites and also possibly send letters home updating families.
“You will know very quickly if your child has come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “Parents, we know you have a tough choice to make. But know that if your child returns to school they will be safe.”
The province, however, will not make COVID-19 testing mandatory for students who have symptoms of the virus. Instead, the guidance says a child must be symptom free for 24 hours before they are allowed to return to school.
“Barriers to return to school, such as requirement of medical notes or proof of negative tests, should be avoided,” the guidance document says.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said parents may want their children tested, but ultimately it will be their decision in conjunction with the local health unit.
“Each case is different,” Dr. David Williams said. “Each case needs to be approached separately, respecting privacy, respecting where the situation is with the child and parent at that time.”