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COVID-19

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Families

Now that your children are back to school, either in class or by remote learning, you are likely faced with many new questions. As the school year progresses, we will continue to update the information on this page to support you. We encourage you to check back often.

Frequently asked questions (revised September 4, 2020) include topics such as:

  • Reducing the spread of germs (e.g. Testing, daily screening, masks, etc.) 
  • Outbreak management processes 
  • Preparing your child for school 
  • Considerations outside of school (e.g. travel, buses, before and after school care, etc.) 
  • And more!

Check back regularly for updates.

Throughout the school year, you may continue to think about which learning option is the right one for your child and family. When weighing your options, which will be available at different points in the year, you could consider several key risk factors related to return to learning:

  • Your child’s medical health 
  • Your child’s close contacts, and their health conditions 
  • Your family’s ability to find child care 
  • Your family’s ability to guide learning at home 
  • Whether your child has developmental needs that require in-class learning with a trained professional.

Visit your child’s school and/or school board website to learn more about the options available to you.

Keeping your family healthy

You need to screen your child for symptoms every day before school.

All students MUST complete a daily COVID-19 symptom screen (online or SMDHU paper checklist - revised Sept 17th - that you can print off and use every day in colour or black and white ) before going to school.  

  • Elementary students: should be screened by their parent/caregiver 
  • Secondary students: can self-screen before going to school, but their parent/caregiver needs to check that the screen is done.

Help your child get ready for the extra steps they will need to take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at school. Talk about what your family will do before going to school. Talk about the school rules and teacher instructions they will follow and how that will help keep them and their classmates healthy.

 

Physical distancing:

  • Your child’s school environment should be a place where students and staff can stay 2 metres (6 feet) apart, as much as possible. You and your child can expect changes to the usual entrances and exits, hallway traffic, and classroom setup.
  • Encourage and remind your younger child to use fun ways to greet their friends (whom they have certainly missed) without getting too close, touching or hugging. Help them practice no-touch greetings such as air high-fives, foot taps or verbally stating how they feel happy to see their friend. Remind your older child to continue physically distancing (2 meters – 6 feet) from others.
  • Talk with your child about how to enjoy playing and socializing at recess safely. Help them prepare for the need to play games that do not require sharing equipment. Being outdoors naturally reduces risk of transmission of viruses, and hand hygiene before and after play should be part of the school routine. 
  • Children will not be perfect at physical distancing. You can help your child notice when they are getting too close to a friend or playmate and learn to correct themselves. You can also help your child practice using kind statements that tell a classmate they are getting too close. 
     

Face coverings

  • Students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear a face covering indoors on school property.
  • Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear a face covering in indoor spaces. However, some school boards and schools are requiring face-coverings in younger grades, please check your school or school board policy.
    • Encouraging a child to wear a face covering means the child is supported to wear a mask properly, for as often and as much of the day that child can manage. An individual approach should be taken for each child.
  • Try to mimic what they will need to do in school for snacks and lunch. Practice removing the mask, placing it in a container or paper bag, have a snack or drink, and then put the mask back on. Pick it up by the ear loops without touching the fabric of the mask.  
  • Emphasize that the child should never share their mask with others or put on another child’s mask. Encourage them to touch their mask while it is on as little as possible and to wash their hands when they do. 
  • Teachers are required to wear medical masks and school-based staff who interact closely with students will be required to wear other types of personal protective equipment (PPE), this could include face shields, gloves and gowns.

You and your children have already been practicing the actions that will keep your family healthy as children return to learning. We recommend that you continue to look for opportunities to remind your child and other family members about the importance of keeping up with these preventative actions, whether at home, school or in the community:
At home: 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean away germs. 
  • Sneeze and cough into your sleeve to keep germs to yourself. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because these are spots where germs from your hands can easily get into your body. 
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick so you don’t get their germs. 
  • Stay home if you are sick so you don’t share your germs with anyone else.

 

Social Circles:

  • Your social circle is the 10 people you can hug and touch, or are a part of your daily and weekly routines without physical distancing. All the people in your social circle should only be a part of ONE social circle. If you are visiting with people who are not in your social circle stay 2 metres (6 feet) apart – and if you cannot, then wear a mask. 
  • Some members of your social circle might have health conditions that make them more at risk for serious symptoms of COVID-19, particularly those who are over 65, or have chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or cancer 

Things that can help you lower the risk include:

  • Consider limiting in-person visits with vulnerable family members or practice other ways to protect them, such as wearing masks when together. 
  • Have a plan to keep children who may have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are sick away (or isolated) from the vulnerable person in your house to avoid infecting them. 
     

Going out:

  • When you are in public or around anyone outside your family members or social circle you should physically distance by staying 2 metres (6 feet) apart to help avoid spreading COVID-19. 
  • Wear a face covering inside public buildings and on public transit. Exceptions are for young children and people with medical or cognitive reasons. 
  • When you wear your face covering do not touch it or you might put germs onto your face covering from your hand, or onto your hand from your face covering. Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after putting your face covering on or taking it off.

Being apart from friends and family can be challenging for everyone. For children and teenagers, it can be even more difficult. Here are some tips to help you and your child:

  • Lead by example. Protect yourself and others
  • Remind them what is within their control: 
  • Wash their hands, wear a mask 
  • Practice physical distancing even when they are excited to see friends they haven’t seen in a long time. Ask them to be aware of others who get too close and to take a step away, or find a nice way you to tell someone they are getting too close. This applies not just at school, but off school property too! Maintain their social circles, that’s ONLY 10 people they can be close to, hug and touch.
  • Sneeze and cough into a tissue or elbow.
  • Take care of themselves – sleep, eat well, and exercise regularly. 
  • Make a routine and help them stick with it. 
  • Listen to their concerns. This will encourage them to share more openly and make them feel heard. 
  • Stick to the facts and use age appropriate information. Use trusted sources of information.
  • Recognize and normalize their feelings. It’s ok to have feelings about what is happening. Help them to manage these feelings through the things they can do such as talking with you or others, journaling, writing poetry, or art. 
  • Emphasize their strengths and abilities to cope. Share your coping strategies and help them develop ones they can use. 
  • Be mindful that your child or teenager is missing things such as outings with friends, milestones, celebrations, sports, work, etc. 
  • Limit their access to media coverage. If they are watching, sit with them so you can talk about what is happening and check their understanding. 
  • Check their mental health – look for signs of stress and feelings of anxiousness. Learn about Six tips to support your child’s mental wellness.

For more information, check out Parenting during COVID-19

The Ontario Active School Travel Council has written to the Minister of Education about the plan to re-open schools in September and offered general recommendations and guidelines for safe healthy school travel. The Council recommends active school travel (walking and wheeling) for all students not travelling by school bus or public transit.

The guidelines for school travel include: 

  • Walking and wheeling to school whenever possible
  • Staying at least 2 meters away from others who are not part of your immediate family or your caregiver (e.g. students, other parents/caregivers, crossing guards, patrollers and school staff) at all times 
  • Wearing a mask when physical distancing is not possible 
  • Walking and cycling in single file as much as possible 
  • Where more pedestrians are present on sidewalks/paths near schools, dismount from bikes 
  • Allowing children to walk/wheel independently all or part of the way to school and practice the route to school before the first day of class
  • Collaborating with other families and take turns leading small groups of children to walk/wheel together if children need to be supervised 
  • And when parents need to drive, park the car one or more blocks from the school site and walk the rest of the way.

 

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 don’t need to be reheated.
  • Use a wide mouth thermos to keep hot food hot. Pre-heat thermos with hot water before filling.
  • Wash all vegetables and fruits well under cool, running water before use.
  • Pack food that your child can eat without help from others.
  • If using a re-usable lunch bag or containers, 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 are 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.
  • Sit down and stay seated while eating.
  • Remove their mask and store it in a paper bag, or on a clean surface while not in use.
  • Eat from a clean surface (e.g. cleaned and sanitized table tops, an open lunch bag, on a clean tea towel, paper towel or placemat, etc).
  • Avoid sharing food, drinks, straws, containers or utensils with others.

 

Whether your child is returning to in class learning, or learning at home, consider these additional healthy eating tips:

  • Use the Eat Well Plate to help build meals that follow Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Choose whole grains, fruits and vegetables and protein foods.
  • Include vegetables or fruits 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:

Symptoms and testing

For easy reference, please see our document: My child has COVID-19 symptoms, now what?  

Symptoms at home: 

Children who have even ONE new symptom of COVID-19 that lasts more than a few hours (2-3 hours) should stay home from child care and/or school and should be tested at an assessment centre. Please contact your child’s school to let them know that your child has symptoms of COVID-19.

All household members of the ill child are to self-monitor for 14 days. They can continue to go to school or work, as long as they have not developed symptoms themselves, and as long as the ill child has not been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Symptoms at school: 

If a child has even ONE new symptom of COVID-19 that seems to be lasting, while at school or child care, they will be isolated and you will be asked to pick them up and should get them tested at an assessment centre.

While children are sick they should not:

  • use public transportation, taxis or rideshares or go to any public places (indoor or outdoor).
  • have visitors and/or friends over and should avoid contact with seniors and those with chronic medical conditions.

If your child has symptoms of COVID-19 you may decide to take them to an assessment centre to get them tested.

Testing for children may include the following depending on the assessment centre and the health care provider:

  • Nasopharyngeal swab – a thin flexible swab is inserted into the nose to the back of the nose/throat (preferred and recommended method). 
  • Throat swab – a larger, sturdier swab is inserted into the mouth to the back of the throat/tonsils area (alternative testing method for children who cannot tolerate a nasopharyngeal swab).

If you feel your child is sick for another reason or do not want to get them tested please contact your health care provider. 

The actions you take to understand your child’s sickness will affect when they can return to school.

For easy reference, please see our document: My child has COVID-19 symptoms, now what?

Children who are tested may be able to return to child care or school earlier than if not tested. Assessment centres are located throughout the County of Simcoe and District of Muskoka.


While waiting for test results:

  • Children who have one or more symptoms of COVID-19 and who have been tested cannot go to child care or school until the results are known.
  •  Any household members (e.g. parents, siblings, grandparents) are to self-monitor for 14 days. These household contacts of the sick individual can continue to go to child care, school or work as long as they have not developed symptoms themselves.


If the results are negative:

  • Children may return to school when they have been free of symptoms for 24 hours. (Symptoms known to last in young children such as a runny nose may be ongoing at the time of return to school if other symptoms have resolved).
  • Household members with no symptoms no longer have to self-monitor.


If the results are positive:

  • Children have to stay home and self-isolate (self-isolating means staying at home and avoiding contact with other people) for 14 days from the beginning of their symptoms.
  • Household members will need to self-isolate as well. Someone from the health unit will contact you and provide further direction about your child’s positive result.

My child is sick because of another health issue, when can they return to school?

  • If you feel there is another reason for the new symptom(s) contact a primary health care provider. If your health care provider decides that your child has another condition (an alternative diagnosis), and that the condition is NOT COVID-19, your child may return to school when they have been free of symptoms for 24 hours.
  • Household members with no symptoms no longer have to self-monitor.

 

I have decided not to get my child tested, when can they return to school?

  • If your child is NOT tested for COVID-19 and there is not a clear alternative diagnosis, they cannot go to child care or school and your child must self-isolate at home for 14 days from the start of their symptoms.
  • Household members are to self-monitor for 14 days. These household contacts of the sick individual can continue to go to child care, school or work as long as they have not developed symptoms themselves.  

 

Most children with COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and are able to recover at home with a caregiver without needing hospitalization.

DO NOT take your child to the emergency room with mild symptoms. Watch for the start or worsening of the following rare symptoms and call 911 if your child is

  • having difficulty breathing (struggling for each breath, can only speak in single words) 
  • confused or very sleepy 
  • fainting or losing consciousness 
  • complaining of chest pain or very bad stomach pain

While caring for your sick child at home consider the following tips to keep them comfortable and help other family members stay healthy. 

  • Keep your child separated (isolated) from family members who are not showing symptoms. 
  • All adults and children in a home should try to keep a distance of at least two metres from each other, if possible. 
  • Keep the area your child is isolating well ventilated. If possible open windows. Children should avoid tobacco or other smoke. 
  • Children should be reminded to wash their hands often with soap and water and cover their coughs and sneezes.

For more about Self-isolation: Guide for caregivers, household members and close contacts

Cases and outbreaks

The health unit and your local school boards are working together to plan for the possibility of a school-based outbreak, which starts with the steps to prevent, detect and then how to manage them, including through contact tracing.

We are preventing outbreaks by recommending that all students, staff and essential visitors who have even ONE new symptom of COVID-19 that lasts more than a few hours, not related to seasonal allergies or pre-existing medical conditions, must stay home from school and should be tested for COVID-19.

If a child becomes sick while at school, the school will follow the Ministry of Health COVID-19 Guidance: School Outbreak Management to ensure that the child is separated and cared for while waiting for their parent/guardian to get them. Any household members (e.g. parents, siblings, grandparents) are to self-monitor for 14 days. These household contacts of the sick individual can continue to go to child care, school or work as long as they have not developed symptoms themselves.

For people who test positive for COVID-19, the health unit will manage these individual positive cases and outbreaks of COVID-19 in school settings including providing direction on communications with staff, visitors, students and families.

When a student or staff has tested positive or there is an outbreak in a school the health unit’s management of the situation will be based on an individual risk assessment and will be informed by the Ministry of Health’s COVID 19 Guidance: School Outbreak Management.

The health unit could recommend:

  • Identifying and sending home students or staff (if applicable) for 14 days following the last exposure to the COVID-19 positive individual
  • Sending home the case’s cohort (e.g. classroom, school bus, before/after program) or multiple cohorts as needed for various lengths of time
  • Increasing environmental cleaning and further limiting of activities
  • Testing of contacts (staff and students), including those with no symptoms

 

An outbreak in a school is defined as two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students and/or staff (or other visitors) with an epidemiological link (i.e. shared space or objects with each other), within a 14-day period, where at least one case could have got COVID-19 in the school (including transportation and before/after school care).

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