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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. Please check back often.

NEW: December 14, 2020 - Letter to parents and guardians

Reduce the risk of COVID-19 at school

All students MUST complete the SMDHU’s daily COVID-19 student screening tool (revised October 5, 2020) 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.

If your child did not pass the COVID-19 daily screening, see our FAQ for more information. - EnglishFrench - revised October 8, 2020

Help your child take the extra steps needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at school:

The Guide to reopening Ontario’s schools includes guidelines for transportation of students, to and from school. To understand how these guidelines have applied for your child’s school, visit your local school board and/or transportation consortium website.

Riding the Bus or School Vehicle:

When riding in a school bus or vehicle, physical distancing between students may not be possible. Additional health and safety measures are recommended to protect students and drivers:

  • Students (grades 4-12) must wear a mask. Those in Kindergarten to grade 3 are encouraged but not required to wear a mask.
  • Students must sit in assigned seats. Seating arrangements will be used for follow up if someone who rides the bus becomes sick or tests positive for COVID-19.
  • Bus drivers are required to wear medical masks, and may need to wear other personal protective equipment (such as eye protection) as appropriate.
  • Buses must be cleaned and disinfected at least twice daily.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer will be available on the bus.
  • Accommodations will also be made for vulnerable (i.e. immunocompromised) students.

Note: if your child becomes sick while at school, you will be called and asked to pick them up from school. This will help to prevent students from riding the bus while they have symptoms.

Walking and Wheeling:

The Ontario Active School Travel Council recommends active transportation and active school travel (walking and wheeling) for all students not travelling by school bus or public transit.

We recommend walking and wheeling to school, whenever possible. When walking or wheeling to school:

  • Stay 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
  • Wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible.
  • Stay single file as much as possible
  • Walk your bike where more pedestrians are present on sidewalks/paths near schools
  • Allow children to walk/wheel independently all or part of the way to school, if they are able to do so
  • Collaborate with other families and take turns leading small groups of children to walk/wheel together, if children need to be supervised 

Driving your Child:

Sometimes it is not possible to walk or wheel to and from school. If you are driving your child to school, consider parking the car one or more blocks from the school site and walk the rest of the way. This helps to reduce traffic and crowds around the school.

  • The Guide to Reopening Ontario's Schools physical distancing between students and staff, as much as possible. You and your child can expect changes to the usual entrances and exits, hallway traffic, and classroom setup.
  • If you have a younger child, teach them fun ways to greet their friends 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. 
  • If you have older children or teenagers, talk to them about the importance of physically distancing (2 meters – 6 feet) from others and avoiding crowded areas (e.g. in the hallway and outdoors, during breaks and on lunch).
  • Talk with your child about how to enjoy playing games that do not require sharing equipment, and the importance of washing their hands before and after play.
  • If your child will not be required to wear their mask at recess, talk to them about the importance of keeping physical distance (2 metres, or 6 feet) from others. If they are not able to do this, encourage them to keep their mask on when heading outside.
  • 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.
  • Students in Grades 4 to 12 are required to wear a face mask indoors on school property.
  • Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 are encouraged but not required to wear a face mask in indoor spaces, however some school boards and schools are requiring face-masks in younger grades, please check your school or school board policy. 

DO’s 

  • Wear a non-medical 2-layer or 3-layer mask to protect yourself and others
  • Ensure the mask is clean, dry and free of holes, rips or tears 
  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer before and after touching the mask 
  • Use the ear loops or ties to put on and remove the mask 
  • Ensure the nose and mouth are fully covered 
  • Replace or launder the mask whenever it becomes damp or dirty 
  • Wash the mask with hot, soapy water and let it dry completely before wearing it again 
  • Store re-usable masks in a clean paper bag until you wear it again 
  • Discard masks that cannot be washed in a lined garbage bin after use.

Don’ts

  • Don’t wear masks with exhalation valves or vents
  • Don’t wear bandanas, scarves or neck gaiters to school. These cannot be put on and taken off easily following proper masking technique and are less effective at filtering respiratory droplets compared to a cloth mask. 
  • Don’t wear a loose mask 
  • Don’t touch the mask while wearing it 
  • Don’t remove the masks to talk to someone 
  • Don’t hang the mask from your ears or neck (lanyards). The use of lanyards as is not recommended as the mask’s inside surface may be exposed to contaminated respiratory droplets as the mask hangs. 
  • Don’t share your mask 
  • Don’t leave your used mask within the reach of others 
  • Don’t reuse masks that are damp, dirty or damaged

Teachers are required to wear medical masks and are encouraged to wear eye protection (such as a face shield or goggles) while in the classroom. 

Other school-based staff who interact closely with students will be required to wear medical masks and may also require other types of personal protective equipment (PPE), this could include face shields, gloves and gowns

Wearing a mask is not required at school, while:

  • outdoors, if physical distancing can be maintained;
  • eating snacks or lunch (students can remove masks once seated and remain seated while their mask is removed); and
  • participating in physical activity in health and physical education class (the Ministry of Education has instructed schools to hold these classes outdoors if at all possible, and to only use the gym if physical distancing measures can be followed).

 

Storing Masks

  • Students should always be encouraged to wash their hands before and after using their masks.
  • Due to the risk of crowding when heading outside, students are to keep their masks on until they are outside.
  • Masks should be stored in a clean, labelled, paper bag or envelope (something that does not absorb moisture) and kept with them while not wearing.
  • Fanny packs can be used so that they can remove them outdoors and keep their mask with them. A paper bag inside the fanny pack is best. The paper bag can be discarded after being used. If a reusable bag (plastic bag or fanny pack, etc.) is used for storage of masks, they should be cleaned/disinfected after.
  • Masks that are visibly soiled, wet, or one cannot breathe through, should be disposed of or laundered.
  • Consider sending more than one cloth mask with your child so that when your child takes off their mask for outside time or lunch break, they can put the used mask into a plastic or paper bag in their backpack, and wear a new, clean mask after the break.

Exceptions:
According to Ministry guidelines, reasonable exceptions on the requirement to wear masks will apply. Such exceptions may include: 

  • individuals with medical conditions rendering them unable to safely wear a mask, including those with breathing difficulties or cognitive difficulties or difficulties in hearing or processing information.
  • anyone who is unable to remove the mask without help.

The school principal, guided by school board policies will review all exemptions. School board policies may require recommendations from a health care provider in regards to your specific circumstances.

My child did not pass daily screening

If your child did not pass their daily screening, read "My child did not pass the COVID-19 daily screening. Now what?" (EnglishFrench revised October 8, 2020) which includes information about when your child can return to school.

Your child’s school or child care may request that you complete an attestation form (revised Nov 11, 2020) confirming that you have taken the actions needed prior to sending them back to school.

For easy reference, please see our document: My child did not pass the COVID-19 screening, now what?  - revised October 8, 2020

If you notice that your child has new or worsening symptoms, what you do depends on the symptoms and how usual they are for your child. If your child has new or worsening:

  • Fever/chills 
  • Cough 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Decreased or loss of smell or taste

Your child should isolate immediately and you should visit an assessment centre for testing and/or seek medical advice, if required.

If your child has ONE new or worsening symptom (that is not related to a known cause or condition) that includes:

  • Sore throat 
  • Stuffy nose/runny nose
  • Headache
  • Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
  • Fatigue/lethargy/muscle aches/malaise

Your child should stay home for 24 hours to be monitored to see whether the symptom gets better or worse. If they start to feel better and symptom are improving, they can return to school/child care when well enough (and in accordance to school/child care policy) to do so and no COVID-19 testing is needed.

If the symptoms get worse, you should visit an assessment centre for testing and/or seek medical advice, if required.

If your child has TWO or MORE new or worsening symptoms (that are not related to a known cause or condition) that include:

  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose/runny nose
  • Headache
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue/lethargy/muscle aches or malaise

Your child should isolate immediately and you should visit an assessment centre for testing and/or seek medical advice, if required.

Have your child tested at an assessment centre:

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 choose not to have your child tested: 

It is difficult for a health care provider to rule out COVID-19 without a test., If your child has not been given an alternate diagnosis and was not tested for COVID-19, they must begin a self-isolation period for minimum of 10 days from the start of their symptoms.

If you feel your child’s symptoms are related to another health condition, you will need to seek assessment their primary healthcare provider.

Children who are tested may be able to return to child care or school sooner than if they are not tested. 

What this means for other members of your household:

All household members of the ill child will need 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 (i.e. tested positive) with COVID-19.

For test results, visit COVID-19 Ontario and click on "check your lab results" or check other laboratory online portals you already subscribe to (e.g. Life Labs, Dynacare).

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

For easy reference, please see our document: My child did not pass the COVID-19 daily screening, now what? - revised October 8, 2020

In general, children should no longer have a fever and their symptoms should be improving to be able to return to school/child care.

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. Household contacts can go to child care, school or work as long as they do not have symptoms.

If the test results are negative:

Your child may return to school if all three of the following criteria are true:

1) they do not have a fever (without taking medication)

2) it has been 24 hours since symptoms started improving

3) they have not been in close physical contact with a person who currently has COVID-19

Mild 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.

Medical notes or proof of negative tests are not required to return to school.

Please note: If your child has had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or if they have travelled out of country, they will need to remain in isolation for 14 days, even if they have a negative test result.

If the test results are positive:

    The health unit will be in contact with the family and the school to provide further direction on returning to school. Students do not need clearance testing or medical notes to return to school.

They can turn to school when:

1) they have completed 10 days of isolation after the onset of symptoms

2) no longer have a fever

3) symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours

Household members will need to self-isolate (self-isolating means staying at home and avoiding contact with other people) as well. Staff from the health unit will call you and give you other directions about your child’s positive result.

 

If your child was not tested for COVID-19:

  • After self-isolating for 10 days, they may return to school or child care if they do not have a fever and it has been at least 24 hours since their symptoms started improving.
  • If your child has received an alternate diagnosis from your doctor or primary health care provider which determined that their symptoms are not due to COVID-19, then your child may return to school once it's been at least 24 hours since symptoms started improving. 
  • If the alternative diagnosis provided by your child’s doctor or healthcare provider indicates that their symptoms are clearly non-infectious (e.g. due to seasonal allergies or a known medical condition), they can return to school before symptoms have resolved.
  • Medical notes or proof of negative tests are not required to return to school.
  • Household members are to self-monitor for 14 days and may go to child care, school or work as long as they do not have symptoms.

It is difficult for a health care provider to rule out COVID-19 without a test. The actions you take to understand your child’s symptoms will impact when they can return to childcare and/or school. Children who are tested may be able to return to child care or school sooner than if they are not tested.

Your child’s school or child care may request that you complete an attestation form (revised November 11, 2020) confirming that you have taken the actions needed prior to sending them back to school.

What happens if there is COVID at my child’s school?

Right now we are living with COVID-19 in our communities. It is possible that members of our school community could come in contact with people who have COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms, inside or outside of the school setting. We know this may be concerning. The information below will help explain the steps the health unit is taking, working with schools and school boards in Simcoe Muskoka, to protect our local community.

The health unit and your school board are working together to plan in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 in a school. The plan includes steps to prevent an outbreak, detect and report cases, and determine how an outbreak will be managed (including what communications need to occur to students and families).

We are preventing outbreaks by recommending:

  • All students must complete the daily screening tool and follow the directions provided based on symptoms.
  • If a child becomes sick while at school, the school will follow the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Guidance: School Outbreak Management to ensure that the child is separated and cared for while waiting for their parent/guardian to pick them up. Household members (e.g. parents, siblings, grandparents) are to self-monitor for 14 days and can go to child care, school or work as long as they do not have symptoms. 

What to expect if someone at school tests positive for COVID-19 or if the health unit declares a school outbreak:

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit investigates all situations in which a person has tested positive for COVID-19 in Simcoe and Muskoka. When it is confirmed that a person does have COVID-19, or when there is an outbreak in a school, the health unit will manage the situation based on a risk assessment that considers the risks to each person and the school overall. This process is informed by the COVID 19 Guidance: School Outbreak Management.

An outbreak in a school is declared when;

  • two or more COVID-19 cases in the school are confirmed by lab tests
  • involves students and/or staff (or other visitors) who have shared space or objects with each other
  • occur within a 14-day period, where at least one case could have got COVID-19 in the school setting (including transportation and before/after school care).

When investigating a case or outbreak, the health unit will begin by:

  • Calling any students, staff or school visitors who test positive for COVID-19. Health unit staff will stay in contact with that person for 14 days giving instructions and support.
  • Obtaining school attendance and cohort documents for use in “contact tracing” where close contacts of the person who is ill will be contacted.
  • Directing and supporting school communications related to the case or outbreak with staff, visitors, students and families.

Based on the results of this investigation, 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.
  • Increasing environmental cleaning and further limiting of activities at the school.
  • Testing of contacts (staff and students), including those with no symptoms. 

The health unit will determine who is at risk and ensure that school staff, families and students, are provided with the appropriate information and recommendations to protect themselves and those close to them.

  • Due to privacy laws, the health unit will not release personal or identifying information about any staff or student who is ill unless deemed necessary.
  • If your child is identified as a close contact of someone who had COVID-19 at school, the health unit will follow up with you directly.
  • If you do not receive a letter and follow up phone call directly from the health unit, your child is not considered a close contact of the individual(s) who tested positive for COVID-19. In that situation, we do not recommend having your child tested unless they are showing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If you do not receive communication from the health unit, your child is not a high risk contact. In this case, your child can go to school if they pass their daily screening.
  • Continue to self-assess for symptoms every day before school
  • Continue to attend school as long as your child does not have symptoms
  • Remind children about the importance of masking, handwashing and physical distancing.

Download our fact sheet Someone at a School or Child Care Centre Tested Positive for COVID-19.

If you received a letter from the heath unit saying your child is considered a close contact to someone in their classroom who has tested positive for COVID-19:

  • Your child should stay home and self-isolate.
  • A person who is a high risk contact must stay out of school for 14 days (longer if they develop symptoms that last longer than the 14 days)
  • Household members are to self-monitor for 14 days
  • Household contacts can continue to go to work/school as long as they have no symptoms themselves, and your child has not received positive test results for COVID-19.
  • If your child receives positive test results for COVID-19, you will receive direct directions from the health unit on next steps including self-isolating for 14 days

Download our fact sheet My Child has Been Identified as a Close Contact of Someone Confirmed to Have COVID-19

Healthy kids learn better

You and your family have already been practicing many of the actions needed to help keep you healthy. Now that children are back to school, we recommend that you continue to remind your child and other family members about the importance of keeping up with these preventative actions. We all have a role to play in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

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.

Limit your child's close contacts:

Your child’s close contacts are the people they can hug and touch without physical distancing. Limit your child’s close contacts to only those within your household, and keep two metres (6 feet) physical distancing from everyone else. 

Outside of your household (e.g. at school and in the classroom at school) it is important that you and your children take steps protect yourselves and others around them. For example:

  • All students and school staff must complete daily screening for COVID-19 symptoms each day before school. 
  • Washing hands often, wearing a mask (required for students in grades 4-12), and practicing physical distancing are also important.
  • Limiting in-person visits with vulnerable family members or practice other ways to protect them, such as wearing masks when together.

Going out:

  • When your child is in public or around anyone outside of your household, help them to practice physically distancing by staying 2 metres (6 feet) apart to help avoid spreading COVID-19.
  • Ensure your child wears a face covering inside public buildings and on public transit. Exceptions are for young children and people with medical or cognitive reasons.
  • When your child is wearing a mask or face covering, teach them not touch it. Doing so might put germs onto their mask or face covering from their hand, or onto their hand from their mask or face covering. Encourage them to wash hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after putting their mask or 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

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:

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.

Page last updated: December 15, 2020

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