Supporting schools during COVID-19

Last revised on September 22, 2020.

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COVID Wise for Back to School: A message from Dr. Vera Etches

 Video script
Hello Ottawa parents and guardians, and students. 

We are living in challenging times.  I know many families are stressed by having to make decisions about school without all the information they would like.  I am also sure that many parents, children, youth and teachers are excited about getting back to learning together.

The start to school will be different this year because many people are working hard to keep the COVID-19 virus out of schools.  I know the more you are doing your part to avoid picking up the virus in the community will help schools a lot.

For my family, we made the decision to send our children back to school after considering  the relatively low levels of the virus in the community, the health status of our boys and their close contacts, and how available my partner and I would be if they were to stay at home. We decided as a family, that sending our children back to school was the best decision for us, for our family.  Each family is different and Ottawa Public Health is here to support all families.

At OPH, we have been receiving many questions from parents and students and I would like to address some of them here in this video.

Questions such as: Should my child be tested before going to school? What will happen if there is someone in the school who tests positive for COVID-19? What will it mean for my child and for my family? Will my child have to be tested? What are some tips to help navigate the return to school? Where can I get more information?

These are very important concerns, so let me try to answer your questions one at a time  

Question: First of all, do students, teachers and staff need to be tested before returning to school?

Answer: Students, teachers and school staff do not need to be tested before returning to school.  The only reason to have your child – or yourself – tested is if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or if advised by a health official to seek testing. A full list of symptoms can be found on our Supporting Schools and COVID-19 web page. This webpage will be regularly updated and can be found on our website: ottawapublichealth.ca/SchoolsCOVID19 . 

I have heard from residents that a negative test result makes them feel like they are free of the virus, but it is important to remember that test result is only good for the moment it is taken, and for this reason it can provide a false sense security. The tests work best when someone has symptoms, and there are not many reasons why someone with no symptoms should be tested, unless advised by public health or your health care provider.

Question: What happens if a student or staff tests positive for COVID-19 ?

Answer: There are two possible outcomes for this situation:

Scenario 1: 

First of all, no one will be blamed for testing positive for COVID-19 and for most people, the illness will be mild.  Many people cannot identify where they came into contact with the virus because people do not always seem sick when they may be infectious to others. If someone in a school setting tests positive for COVID-19 and your child IS a close contact, an Ottawa Public Health nurse will contact you directly with information on if, how and when to get tested for COVID-19 as well as further actions you’ll need to take.

Scenario 2: 

If someone in a school setting tests positive for COVID-19 and your child is NOT considered a close contact, you do not need to have your child tested or keep them home.

I often get asked what is a close  contact. Well, each situation can be a little different, but a close contact is typically someone who had a prolonged exposure in close proximity to a person diagnosed with COVID-19. Passing someone in the hallway or on the street would not be considered a close contact, but spending hours or days together in your home, workplace or school setting may be considered a close contact.  Again, a public health nurse will be in touch with you, if this is the case.

Question: What steps do I need to take if my child becomes ill with symptoms of COVID-19?

Answer: You must keep your child home from school and notify the school that your child is ill with symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19. You will be contacted by a Public Health Nurse who will provide you with directions regarding testing and next steps.

Question: What steps do I need to take if my child tests positive for COVID-19?

Answer:  I can understand that this may be a difficult time for you and your family. One of our public health nurses will provide guidance to you if your child tests positive.  In this case, your child must self-isolate at home until:

  • they have completed at least 14 days of isolation from when their symptoms began OR when they received a positive test result (if they never had symptoms of COVID-19),
  • and they have not had a fever for 72 hours,
  • and their symptoms have been improving for at least 72 hours.  

This could result in the self-isolation period being longer than 14 days.  It is important to note that if your child is diagnosed with COVID-19, all their household contacts will also require close follow-up by OPH and further guidance will be provided to them as well.

Question: What happens when there are people in the school that test positive COVID?

Answer: Once someone in a school is confirmed with COVID, whether that is a staff or student, Ottawa Public Health would reach out to parents of close contacts to let them know and help them with the next steps which include staying home, monitoring for symptoms and presenting for testing when it’s appropriate. Ottawa Public Health would continue to investigate to determine any other close contacts and monitor the situation to determine if there is an outbreak situation, whether it affects single classrooms, a section of the school or the entire school and when an outbreak can be declared over.

As the start of school approaches, we encourage you to have a few conversations in your family, with your child or youth, to talk about the following dos and don’ts to help them and their friends stay healthy:

Do:

  • Stay at home when you are sick, even when symptoms are mild. Staying home helps prevent spreading your illness to friends and teachers.
  • Tell someone right away if you don’t feel well.
  • Practice ‘no touch’ greetings with your friends and teachers at school. Let’s share a wave and not our germs.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper arm, not your hands! Throw the tissue away in the garbage can and wash your hands right away.
  • Bring your own water bottle from home to stay hydrated throughout the day. And don’t share it with friends.
  • Keep one to two meters (three to six feet) apart to keep you and the friends around you healthy.
  • Wear a mask if you’re able (required in school for grades 4 and up)
  • Reach out for help if you need it. It’s ok NOT to be ok. Talk to your school guidance counsellor or Check out our website for some of our mental wellness supports.
  • Make sure your immunizations are all up to date.

Don’t: 

  • Don’t Share personal belongings and food with students and staff.
  • Don’t Share your mask.
  • Don’t Touch your face. We can easily spread germs from our hands to our mask or face.

I encourage you to visit our new webpage for parents who have children going back to school. You can find it at:  ottawapublichealth.ca/SchoolsCOVID19

This webpage includes:

  • school reopening plans
  • health promotion and disease prevention measures
  • mental wellness supports
  • partner resources
  • and much more including a very helpful decision-making screening tool.

Ottawa Public Health has developed a simple-to-use screening tool to help parents decide whether their children should be going to school. This tool is available on our Supporting Schools & COVID website.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) will continue the conversations, monitor what’s happening in schools, re-evaluate and share new information as it becomes available. We are in this together. Thank you, Merci

Overview

We recognize that this is a difficult time due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the decision to send your child(ren) to school is not easy. Each family should assess their own individual situation especially if your child(ren), family and household members are at higher risk for serious outcomes due to the COVID-19 virus . You may also want to consider your child’s health condition, their learning needs, your family’s ability to find childcare and resources to assist in providing home schooling. Each family should choose what is best for them.
Keeping COVID-19 transmission low in the community is important to help prevent the introduction of the virus into schools. The primary goal is to make reopening of schools as safe as possible. Parents, OPH and school boards each have a role to play in making the return to school as safe as possible.

Ottawa Public Health’s Role

In accordance with provincial standards and guidance, OPH:

  • Supports school boards in their reopening plans and provides public health information.
  • Provides transmission infection pprevention and control advice to schools for both in-school and transportation scenarios.• Manages follow up for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 cases and outbreaks, including providing guidance to schools on confirming and controlling outbreaks.
  • Supports testing and surveillance of the school population.
  • Provides ongoing support though a dedicated public health school nurse who will be assigned to an area of schools and can assist in responding to school specific inquiries.
  • Provides age-appropriate resources on COVID-19.
  • Provides mental wellness support, including the development of school resources and tools on topics like resiliency, positive coping skills, and reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Facilitates linkages to resources and community supports available for school staff, students and their families.

School Board’s Role

  • Develops and implements reopening plans following guidelines and recommendations from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Ottawa Public Health.
  • Communicates with the school community about COVID-19 prevention measures and how those who have tested positive for COVID 19 and outbreaks will be supported, in collaboration with OPH.
  • Support OPH, and other stakeholders as appropriate, with the identification and follow up of people with COVID-19, their contacts, and places experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19
  • Ensures accurate records of staff and students’ attendance, as well up-to-date contact information for staff and students that can be accessed in a timely manner for investigations and communications.
  • Facilitates training of school staff with respect to outbreak prevention and control measures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

 Role of Parent(s)/ Guardian(s):

  • Using the screening tool,  screen every child in your care every  morning. The tool will help you decide whether your child should go to school or childcare that day.
  • Have your child tested for COVID-19 based on recommendations of screening tool, health care provider or Ottawa Public Health (OPH)
  • Keep your child(dren) home while waiting for COVID-19 test results and/ or if they are a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case.
  • Call the school as soon as possible if your child:
    • Has COVID-19 like symptoms and will not be attending school,
    • Tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating, or
    • Is self-isolating because they are a close contact of a positive case
  • Provide the school with up-to-date contact information for each parent or guardian and emergency contacts
  • Inform the school of any medical conditions your child(ren) may have (provide appropriate documents to the school as needed) 
  • Ensure your child’s immunizations are up to date
  • Have a plan in place in the event your child cannot attend school for an extended period or is required to go home during the day
  • Read all communications from the school and OPH and check the Supporting schools during COVID web page regularly.
  • Contact the Ottawa Public Health Information Centre (OPHIC) at (613) 580-6744 if you have any questions about any letter or message received from OPH.
  •  Please note: Parents/guardians do NOT need to call OPH to inform them that a child is sick, has COVID-like symptoms, or has a negative COVID result. OPH will contact parents as needed. 

Useful links:

As we learn to live with COVID-19, we must continue to Be COVID Wise and recognize that all of us have a role to play when it comes to reducing the spread of the virus. 

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School reopening plans

Please refer to your school board for their school reopening plans.

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COVID-19 Screening Tool for School or Child Care

The purpose of this screening tool is to help parents and guardians make decisions about whether their child can attend school/child care. This screening tool should be completed daily before attending school/child care for each individual child separately. No personal information is requested when completing this tool, which means that you and/or your child cannot be personally identified or linked to your responses. Using this tool is voluntary. It is recommended that you contact a healthcare provider if you have more questions about your child’s health. This tool is subject to change as further guidance from the Ministry of Health and evidence related to COVID-19 risks becomes available.

Process when a person tests positive for COVID-19

Ottawa Public Health’s (OPH) goal is to prevent further transmission of COVID-19 and to keep children and school staff safe. If someone tests positive for COVID-19 in a school, OPH will work in collaboration with the school to reduce the risk of COVID-19 by implementing some or all of the following measures: 

  • Communicating regularly with the school

  • Reviewing and confirming important practices to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 including:  

    • Screening children and staff for exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19  

    • Staying home when sick 

    • Cohorting (grouping and separation) students and staff 

    • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces   

    • Using personal protective equipment when appropriate (e.g., masking) 

    • Ensuring proper hand hygiene 

    • Posting signage of appropriate public health measures (e.g., hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene) 

    • Maintaining physical distancing 

  • Doing a site visit to the school and provide further advice, when indicated 
  • Providing recommendations on testing, as per provincial guidelines 
  • Assessing whether school operations can continue and if any additional measures are needed  
  • Identifying people who may have been in contact with the person(s) who tested positive for COVID-19  
  • Contacting those affected directly to provide guidance  
  • If school operations were interrupted as part of outbreak management, determining when operations can safely resume 
  • Helping the school ensure important practices remain in place long term  

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Information for parents and students

Here are some important key messages for parents and guardians to review with their child before schools starts:

  • Stay at home when you are sick, even when symptoms are mild. Staying home helps prevent transmitting an illness to others.
  • Ensure that personal belongings and food are not shared with students and staff. 
  • Practice ‘no touch’ greetings with your friends and teachers at school. Let’s share a wave and not our germs.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper arm, not your hands! Throw the tissue away and wash your hands right away.
  • If you don’t feel well, tell someone.
  • Avoid touching your face. We can easily spread germs from our hands to our mask or face.
  • Bring your own water bottle from home to stay hydrated throughout the day.
  • When not wearing a mask, physical distancing is especially important to keep you and the friends around you healthy.
  • Reach out for help if you need it. It’s ok NOT to be ok. Check out some of our Mental wellness supports.
  • Make sure your immunizations are all up to date.
Packing healthy and safe lunches – what’s new during COVID-19? 
Packing healthy and safe food and snacks is an important part of return to school planning for your child. Children who eat well can focus longer and are ready to learn at school and eating well and staying hydrated is important to help fight off illness.

Here are some things to keep in mind if your child is returning to classroom learning:

At Home:

  • Wash hands before and after preparing and handling food.
  • Wash and disinfect surfaces before and after preparing and packing food.
  • Use an insulated bag with a freezer pack or thermos to keep food cool. Chill milk or freeze drinking water to help keep food cool.
  • Pack food choices that are ready to eat and do not need to be reheated.
  • Check with your school if you should avoid packing peanut butter or foods containing peanuts in your child's lunch.
  • Use a wide mouth thermos to keep hot food hot. Pre-heat thermos with hot water before filling.
  • Wash all vegetables and fruit under cool, running water before use.
  • Pack food that your child can eat without the help from others.
  • If using a reusable lunch bag or container, make sure to wash them daily with hot, soapy water.
  • Label containers, bottles, lunch bags and reusable utensils with your child’s name.
  • Do not reuse plastic bags – they can hold bacteria.

 

At School:

  • There will be no access to appliances like microwaves, toasters or kettles at school.
  • New practices will be put in place regarding access to water fountains. Students should bring a full reusable water bottle labelled with their name that can be refilled throughout the day.
  • Some schools may not have cafeteria food services or lunch programs (pizza, sub day, etc.) at this time.
  • There may be new policies or protocols in place about leaving school during lunch or recess to purchase food.
  • Students may have to pack and bring home all garbage and waste.

Help your child understand they will need to:

  • Wash their hands before and after eating.
  • Remain at their own desk while eating.
  • Safely remove their mask and store it in a clean bag until ready to reuse.
  • Avoid placing food directly on their desk. Instead use an open lunch bag or place food on a clean surface such as a paper towel/cloth napkin.
  • Keep food, drinks, straws, containers or utensils to themselves (no sharing).

Healthy Eating Tips:

  • Use the Eat Well Plate to help build meals that follow Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Choose whole grains, vegetables and fruit and protein foods.
  • Include vegetables or fruit for every meal and snack.
  • Plan and prepare snacks and meals ahead of time to help limit use of processed foods that are high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat.
  • Choose water as the drink of choice.
  • Involve your kids with choosing and preparing food.

Helpful links:

Ensuring a safe return to school means we all have to be COVID Wise to protect ourselves and others from the transmission of COVID-19. If we all take precautions at home and in the community, we have fewer opportunities for the virus to be present in our schools. Here are some important things we need to do to reduce the transmission and take care of our health:

Hand hygiene

Hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs. Children need to be taught when and how to wash their hands properly. It is important for everyone to wash their hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.

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Masks

Wearing a cloth (non-medical) mask indoors helps to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and helps protect people who are around you. When you wear a mask, you are helping to protect other people. When other people wear a mask, they are helping to protect you. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear masks in indoor spaces. Visit our Masks page for additional information on how to wear a cloth (non-medical) mask and store them safely when not in use. Frequently asked questions about masks and children

Physical distancing

Physical distancing involves taking steps to stay between 1 to 2 metres (3 to 6 feet) away from others. Both the World Health Organization and Sick Kids Guidance Document acknowledge that a minimum of 1 metre distance is beneficial in a school setting. This will help to limit the transmission of COVID-19.  Physical distancing helps limit the transmission of the virus when used with the other public health measures such as hand washing, wearing a mask and staying home when sick. Please refer to your school board’s reopening plan for physical distancing considerations at your school.

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Mental wellness supports

Take care of yourself. It’s ok to NOT be ok. Please know that help is available, and we encourage you to reach out for support when you need it.

Mental health resources for school staff

Mental Health and Substance Use Services and Resources

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Frequently asked questions

Should I have my child tested for COVID-19 before they go back to school?
Testing your child before returning to school is generally not recommended if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms, unless they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. OPH is currently recommending testing for people showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who are in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Should teachers and school staff be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work in the schools?
Teachers and school staff do not need to be tested before returning to school, unless they have COVID-19 symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Does my child need to have a negative COVID-19 test result or a doctor’s note in order to return to school after recovering from COVID-19?
No. Children can return to school if they have completed their 14 days of self-isolation, have no fever and their symptoms have been improving for at least 72 hours.
Do school staff need to have a negative COVID-19 test result or a doctor’s note in order to return to school after recovering from COVID-19?
No. School staff can return to school if they have completed their 14 days of self-isolation, have no fever and their symptoms have been improving for at least 72 hours.
If someone in my child’s school tests positive for COVID-19 do I need to get my child tested?
If someone from a school setting tests positive for COVID-19 and your child is not considered a close contact, you do not need to have your child tested or keep them home. Ottawa Public Health will reach out to parents directly if it is determined that their child is considered a close contact and provide advice on if and when testing is necessary.
What happens if someone in my child’s class tests positive for COVID-19?
If someone in a school setting tests positive for COVID-19 and your child is a close contact, an OPH case manager will contact you directly with information on how and when to get tested for COVID-19 and further actions to take. 

What is considered an outbreak in a school?

An outbreak would be declared in a school once it has been determined that there are two positive cases with an epidemiological link (e.g. these children could have become infected with COVID-19 at school either from each other or a common source). Each case will need to be assessed and it would need to be determined that transmission occurred in the school before confirming it as an outbreak since it is possible that children could have been infected outside the school setting. 

What happens when there is an outbreak in a school?

Once an outbreak in a school is confirmed, OPH would reach out to parents of close contacts to let them know and help them with the next steps which include staying home, monitoring for symptoms and present for testing when it’s appropriate. OPH would continue to investigate to determine any other close contacts and monitor the situation until an outbreak can be declared over. Including if a classroom and or the entire school would need to be closed.
What steps do I need to take if my child becomes ill with symptoms of COVID-19?
You must keep your child home from school and notify the school that your child is ill with symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19.  We recommend that your child goes to a COVID-19 assessment centre or care clinic to get tested as soon as possible. Your child and household contacts (for example siblings, parents/guardians) are required to self-isolate and stay at home while awaiting test results. If the test is negative (shows your child does not have COVID-19) your child may return to school 24 hours after symptoms have resolved. If the test result is positive, follow the instructions from Ottawa Public Health.  For more information contact Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744 or refer to the COVID-19 Assessment Centre and Care Clinics Webpage.
What happens if my child becomes ill while at school?

During the school day, if your child has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 your child will be separated from other children and supervised by a staff member. Parents/ guardians are contacted and asked to bring their child home. Siblings or other household members that also attend the school are required to go home and self-isolate.  Ottawa Public Health recommends that the child be tested for COVID-19 at one of the assessment or care centres. 

Your child must remain in isolation while waiting for the results of COVID-19 testing and cannot attend school in person. Siblings and other close contacts are also required to isolate while waiting for test results. For more information on self-isolation instructions visit the OPH website.

What happens if my child was ill and they test NEGATIVE for COVID-19?
If your child tests negative for COVID-19, they cannot return to school until at least 24 hours after the symptoms have resolved without fever-reducing medication, or 48 hours after vomiting or diarrhea has resolved. All household contacts can also end self-isolation.
What happens if my child tests positive for COVID-19 and I have another child/children in the same school or a different school?

It is important to note that if your child is diagnosed with COVID-19, all their household contacts (for example siblings, parents/guardians, roommates) will have to self-isolate and will require close follow-up by a Public Health Nurse. Further guidance will be provided with regards to testing and self-isolation for all household contacts by OPH.

What does being a “close contact” mean?

A close contact is typically someone who had a prolonged exposure in close proximity to a person diagnosed with COVID-19.OPH identifies close contacts through a detailed review of factors such as the individual’s symptoms, where they have been, and who they have interacted with. Close contacts are contacted directly  by OPH and receive further guidance.

The following are examples of people who may be considered higher risk or close contacts:

  • A person who came within 2 metres (6 feet) of a person who has tested positive; the longer they were within 2 metres the higher the risk*
  • A person who lives within the same household or provides care to a person who has tested positive (e.g., bathing, feeding, or dressing)
  • A person with whom a person who has tested positive had close physical contact (e.g., shaking hands or hugging) 
  • A person who may have been coughed or sneezed on by a person who has tested positive

Other factors may impact the risk of the exposure such as if the interaction occurred inside or outside, how long the interaction was and if personal protective equipment was worn (ie mask, gloves, etc). OPH will discuss these factors when speaking with people who have COVID-19 and their close contacts.  

*Please note: Interactions where people briefly come within 2 metres (6 feet) of each other, such as walking by someone in the hallway or on the street, are generally not considered close contacts.

Do close contacts (ie members of the same household) of a student/staff, who has been identified by OPH as a close contact of an individual who tested positive for COVID-19, need to self-isolate or be tested?

No, as long as the child/staff who has been told they are a close contact of a person who tested positive for COVID-19 does not have any symptoms. For example, if a student/staff is identified by Ottawa Public Health as a close contact from school, school bus etc, they need to self-isolate from others at home and get tested no earlier than 5 days after initial close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 positive individual (a negative test result still means the student/staff has to finish 14 days of self-isolation)But the rest of the family do not need to be in isolation and do not need to be tested. This is different from when the child/staff is symptomatic because they will have exposed others in the household and now the entire household self-isolates until the child/staff test results are received.  If the result is negative, the rest of the household can end their self-isolation. 

Is it safe for my child to take the school bus?

The back-to-school bussing plans - outlined by your local transportation company and directed by the Ministry of Education - include measures such as extra cleaning and disinfecting, personal protective equipment for students and drivers, and assigned seating.

The priority for transportation services is to create an environment where students can feel safe and prevent the transmission of the virus as much as possible. If your child is returning to school, take some time to consider the best transportation option for your child. Active forms of travel (for example, walking and cycling) and private transportation by parents and caregivers are encouraged where possible to ease pressure on transportation demand. 

Please refer to your school board and transportation company for what your child requires in order to safely attend school and travel between home and school. 

Should children change their clothes when they get home?

No. Students returning from school do not need to change their clothing when they get home. When students come home, it is recommended that they wash their hands with soap and water. 

What should students and staff do upon arriving home from school?

  • Wash their hands. Hand hygiene is one of the most important things we can do to limit the transmission of COVID-19. When students and/ or staff come home, it is recommended that they wash their hands with soap and water.
  •  Cloth (non-medical) masks should be washed daily .
  • Disposable masks should be discarded in a lined garbage bin.
  • Items taken daily to school such as water bottles, mugs and lunch containers, should also be washed. 

Why are physical distancing recommendations for schools different than for other public places?

OPH recommends that physical distancing of at least 2 metres be maintained between individuals in all settings including schools.

The following are an explanation of other opinions expressed by two agencies: 

  • The SickKids Hospital, recommends a one-metre separation and notes that the protection from one metre of separation may approach the benefits of a two metre separation (provided individuals are asymptomatic and adequate symptom screening practices are in place). Research has found that there is additional protection for greater distances up to and beyond two metres.
  • The America Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) indicates that physical distancing of 2 metres or more is still the best approach to protecting children from COVID-19. Research, however, has found that avoiding close contact and spacing desks at least one metre apart may have similar benefits of physical distancing (at least 2 metres apart) if students wear cloth masks and do not have symptoms of illness. The greater the number of children in the classroom, the greater the risk of COVID-19 introduction into that cohort (group) of students. In addition, efforts should be made to reduce the number of students in classrooms and to maintain cohorting (grouping) of students/classrooms. 

Are children in my child’s cohort at school considered part of my social circle?

No. The contacts your child will have at school will be different than the close contacts in your household or social circle.

OPH wants parents to know that it’s just as important now as ever to take extra precautions at home, even if you child/children are having more close contacts at school.

Even though some children may see each other at school, it doesn't make large gatherings with school friends outside of classes a good idea. Each family will need to consider their own risks and situations when determining their social circle - no family is the same.  Close contact is where the risk is highest, so limiting the number of close contacts as much as possible is important.  The greater the number of contacts, the longer the potential chain of COVID-19 transmission will be.  OPH strongly recommends prioritizing your household members and any essential supports such as childcare providers, friends or neighbours.

If you chose to socialize with friends and family, try your best to:

  • Keep your group small, less is best
  • Meet outside, weather permitting; if weather is not agreeable consider postponing the gathering
  • Maintain physical distancing (2 metres, 6 feet)
  • Wear cloth masks   

Can my child use a face shield instead of a mask?

No. A face shield is not a substitute for wearing a face mask, as it does not filter respiratory (breathing and talking) droplets. 

A face shield may provide some protection from the droplets from another person; however, these droplets may still be breathed in around the shield. As well, droplets from the person wearing the shield may escape around the sides of the face shield, which provides less protection to others. If you choose to wear a face shield, we recommend wearing it with a properly fitted mask. It could be considered a better option than no mask, but it is NOT a replacement for a mask.

Masks at school (for more information about masks please visit our mask page).

Where should my child put their mask when they take it off to eat or drink?

Your child should store their cloth or disposable mask  in a clean closeable bag or plastic container until ready to use again the same day provided the mask is not damaged, damp or dirty. Your child should take the following steps to properly store his/her mask:

  • Ensure it is safe to remove the mask (i.e. maintain physical distance of 2m from others);
  • Perform hand hygiene (i.e. clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) before and after taking off the mask;
  • Remove the mask from his/her face using the ties or ear loops, and avoid touching the cloth portion of the mask;
  • Fold it in half, so that the outer surface is inwards (so that the contaminated outer surface is not contacting anything during storage);
  • Place it in a clean, closeable bag or plastic container until ready to use it again the same day; and,
  • Teach children not to leave a mask that has absorbed moisture from their breath in a non-breathable bag or container for more than an hour or so.

Parents and guardians should practice this with young children before school starts so that children can safely remove their mask and put it away properly until ready to use again. (Students should be sent to school with a closable bag or plastic container that is labelled with their name.)

Can lanyards be used to store masks, while they are not in use?

No. To prevent masks from becoming contaminated when not in use, the mask should be stored in a clean, closable bag or plastic container until ready to use again that same day.

OPH does not recommend the use of lanyards as the mask’s inside surface may be exposed to contaminated respiratory droplets as the mask hangs by the lanyard from the neck.

Can my child wear their mask all day?

  • Yes. Both cloth and disposable masks can be worn all day, for one day, as long as they do not become damaged, damp or dirty. It is important to properly store both cloth and disposable masks to prevent contamination when not being worn.
  • At the end of a full day’s wear or if the disposable mask has become damp, dirty or damaged, it is best to throw it out. Prolonged or repeated daily use of the same disposable mask may not provide enough protection even it if looks clean and not damaged.
  • Discard used disposable masks in a garbage bin lined with a plastic bag.

Children should be shown how to properly take care of their masks. Here are some things parents and caregivers can teach them:

  • How to remove their mask using the ties or ear loops when they are safely able to do so
  • How to wash their hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing their mask.
  • How to properly store masks.
  • How to avoid touching the cloth or fabric portion of their masks while placing it in a clean, closeable bag or plastic container until ready to use it again the same day. 
  • Teach children not to share masks.

What if my child loses their mask or doesn’t have one for school? 

Students should speak to school staff to get a mask if they do not have one; forgot it at home, lost it or it became dirty, damaged or damp on the way to school.

Parents should try to ensure their child is provided with 2 clean masks each day.

Students in grades 4-12 will be required to wear a mask, and children in K to grade three are encouraged to wear masks if possible.

Should children and teachers wear a mask in outdoor settings?

Yes. Children and teachers should wear a mask in outdoor settings whenever a physical distance of two or more metres cannot be maintained.

Current evidence tells us that the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus in outdoor settings is much lower than in indoor settings. Physical distancing is easier to maintain and there is much greater air circulation when outdoors. This reduced risk is because people are less likely to be exposed to infectious respiratory droplets (from coughing, sneezing, shouting, singing, talking, breathing).

Although outdoor settings may reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, the risk is not eliminated. Masks help to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in outdoor settings where physical distancing may be difficult to maintain (such as at a bus stop).

Please refer to your school board plans regarding other mask wearing details at school.  

How can I encourage my child to wear a mask? 

Encourage your child to wear a mask by doing the following:

  • Explain why
    • Children watch, listen and learn. Explaining the importance of mask wearing in simple terms can help them understand why wearing a mask is important. Allow them to ask questions and express their feelings. You may want to start by reading how to help children cope with stressful public events to give you some guidance.
  • Give choices
    • Consider letting children of all ages choose their mask pattern and/or colour. Kids like to feel independent and be given choices. If you are able, include your child in selecting a mask of their choice.
  • Include masks in imaginative play
    • Children have amazing imaginations. Include a few masks in their playtime and see what they come up with. Having masks present in their environment will help them become more comfortable to the look and feel of masks.
  • Set an example
    • When heading out in public be a role model. Show your children how you put on your mask and explain why you are doing it – to protect those around you
  • For more info visit: Kids and Masks: Tips from an Expert

How can I safely label my child’s mask for school? (cloth, non-medial masks)

OPH recommends:

  • Adding a small label or written name (in permanent marker) at the very edge of the mask.
  • Iron-on labels or written name (in permanent marker) is preferred over sewing labels into the mask. Sewing stitches into a mask may alter the effectiveness of the mask.

Masks should continue to fit securely and cover the nose, mouth, and surrounding face without gapping. Cloth masks should be washed the end of each day, after it is worn at school.
We recommend against putting a label near the middle of the mask as this can affect how well the mask will filter. Please note, it is unknown how labeling may affect how well the mask works.

How will I find out if my child is positive or negative for COVID-19 after they have been tested?
When you bring your child in for testing at one of the COVID Assessment Centres or Care Clinics you will be given information on how to access their test results on a secure online portal, MyChart or Ontario Ministry portal. A lab will process the swab taken from your child and upload the test result to the online portal.
Public Health Ontario indicates that if someone has not received their results online within 4 days of being tested, they should contact their health care provider. It can take 2 to 5 days for lab results to be received, and timelines are dependent on the lab’s capacity. The status of your child’s test can be checked at any time online.
My child was tested for COVID-19 because they were identified as a close contact, , what do I do now?
If your child has no symptoms but was tested for COVID-19 because they were identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, your child would need to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms for 14 days. Siblings and other members within the same household of a close contact awaiting test results do not need to self-isolate and may return to school/work; however, they should continue to monitor for symptoms.
If your child’s test result is negative, they can return to school 24 hours after the symptoms are resolved, including no fever without fever-reducing medication, and 48 hours after gastrointestinal (vomiting and diarrhea) symptoms have resolved. Close contacts can also discontinue self-isolation once the negative test result is confirmed.
If your child tests positive for COVID-19, all your child’s household contacts will have to self-isolate and will require close follow-up by Ottawa Public Health. Further guidance will be provided for testing, self-monitoring and self-isolation.
 How will OPH be informed if my child receives a positive COVID-19 test result?
The lab will inform OPH. When a swab tests positive for COVID-19, the test result and contact information of the individual are sent to OPH. An OPH case manager will be assigned to work with the parent/guardian of the child to provide follow-up details. The case manager will reach out by phone to complete an assessment. You may receive a call that shows up as a private or unknown number when the OPH case manager calls you, please answer.
How will schools be informed if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19?
An OPH case manager will contact the school as soon as OPH is made aware of a positive lab result to begin an investigation.
If the positive lab result is received by OPH after operating hours, OPH will reach out to the school the following day. The priority is always to ensure that any student or staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 do not attend school the following day.
It is possible that a person who tests positive for COVID-19 receives their results on the online portal before being contacted by OPH. The school should be contacted immediately by parents/guardians or school staff member.
Why is an outbreak considered 1 person diagnosed with COVID-19 in childcare centres and long-term care homes but a school needs to have two (2) cases to be considered an outbreak?
The Ontario Ministry of Health determines the definition for outbreaks in settings such as schools, day cares and long-term care homes.
Will OPH publicly report when there is only one positive case in a school?
No. OPH is required by the Ministry of Health to publicly report when an outbreak is declared. In a school this represents two (2) cases that are linked. According to the Ministry to Education, schools are required to report when schools or classes are closed.
Parents/Guardians of a child in a school that has had a case of COVID-19 will be notified directly if their child is a close contact of the individual or will be affected by a class or school closure.
Are schools allowed to remain open while in outbreak?
Yes, it is possible for a school to remain open during an outbreak. The ability for the school to remain open will depend on how many cohorts (groups of students) are affected. This decision will be made in consultation with the school, school board and OPH.
When an outbreak is declared in a school, an investigation will take place to determine which cohorts are affected and parents will be notified of next steps. Some cohorts may need to be in self-isolation at home until a date determined by OPH.
How fast is OPH able to investigate the possible transmission of COVID-19 to others in a school following a positive test result?
OPH initiates the investigation as soon as possible. The OPH case manager will work with the school, staff member, or the parent/guardian of the student who tested positive for COVID-19, to find out where the individual may have acquired the infection.
OPH will work with the school to determine which students and/or staff were close contacts. The case manager will also look at whether a close contact takes the bus, attends care before or after school or participates in any activities in the school.
When does OPH contact others impacted at the school about the outbreak?

Upon learning that someone has tested positive for COVID-19, OPH collaborates with the school board to send an initial letter to the entire school population to:

  • Advise them that someone in the school has tested positive for COVID-19,
  • Inform them that an investigation has started
  • Explain that OPH will be in touch with high-risk contacts.

After OPH conducts its investigation and has determined who are high-risk contacts, they will reach out to families by phone, email or through automated messaging used for contact tracing.

When an outbreak is declared at a school, are all students and staff members considered potential contacts?
No. Each situation will be different. An OPH investigation will take place to determine which cohorts (groups of students) are affected in the school. OPH will also determine if a student had contact with other children or staff members during transportation to/from the school or in Extended Day Programs (EDP) at the school.

Will the identity of an individual diagnosed with COVID-19 be made public by the school or OPH?

No. All personal health information including identities are kept confidential as per the Ontario Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004 to protect privacy, and prevent stigma or harassment of an individual.

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Resources for school staff

Ottawa Public Health:

School Mental Health Ontario

How to wear a mask at school

It is important to wash/sanitize your hands before putting on your mask, before removing your mask, and after removing your mask.

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Other Resources:

Organization Resources
Best Start

Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS)

Caring for kids
Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO)
CHU Sainte-Justine
Government of Canada
Healthy Literacy Project
Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies
Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child & Youth Mental Health
Ottawa Public Health
Ottawa Public Library
Reaching In...Reaching Out
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)

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More information to come. Please continue to check back for new updates.

 

 

 

 

 

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