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To manage the Omicron surge, Ontario has changed the way public health monitors and responds to COVID-19.  The way we used to manage school cases and contacts is no longer a good method to contain the virus, given that it is widespread in the community.  We are currently unable to respond to all COVID cases given the high number of cases and the change in provincial guidance on who is eligible for PCR testing.   Public health units in Ontario now need to prioritize individuals and settings at highest risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 (elderly, sick, immunocompromised, long-term care, hospitals etc.).

We understand that, as parents, you will have a range of emotions as your children make their way back into the classroom.  We have created a FAQ for return to school seeking to address your concerns. Please check it often as we will be updating it frequently.  The information below is based on the most recent public health measures and guidance, including updated testing and isolation guidelines, and additional health and safety measures.

We will continue to update this page based on new provincial guidance, so please check back often.

At home: Take daily precautions and screen your child

Although the response to cases may have changed, the strategies used to limit the spread of this virus remain similar to other phases of the pandemic.

There are several things that parents and students can do to lessen the spread of COVID-19 in schools such as daily monitoring for symptoms, staying home while sick, and using a rapid antigen test (if available) when symptoms develop. 

Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 continues to be the most effective measure for reducing the spread of illness. It can also help lower the risk of serious illness, if you do get COVID-19. 

In Simcoe Muskoka, COVID-19 vaccination is being offered through community clinics. Eligible students are encouraged to attend these clinics with their parent/guardian, outside of school hours.  

One of the most important steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in schools is to stay home if you are sick. That is why all students MUST complete the COVID-19 School and Child Care Screening Tool, every day before attending school.

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

Your school may require proof of daily screening. 

If your child has had symptoms in the past and now has new or worsening symptoms, these symptoms should be included when answering the screening questions. The results of screening will tell you if your child must stay home and isolate. If they do need to isolate, recommendations for what to do next will also be provided.

If your child develops new or worsening COVID-19 symptoms at any time, including over the weekend, or on a day off from school (e.g. PA Day), they are required to isolate before returning to school. 

  • Fully vaccinated or aged 11 or younger -  must stay home and isolate for 5 days from the day symptoms started. After 5 days, they can return to school when symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours after nausea, vomiting or diarrhea). 
  • Not fully vaccinated AND 12 years of age or older OR immunocompromised regardless of age) -  must stay home and isolate for 10 days from the time their symptoms started. After 10 days, they can return to school when symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours after nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea).

In both cases, all other household members (regardless of vaccination status) must also stay home and isolate for the same amount of time as the child with symptoms.

If your child got a positive result on a rapid antigen test it is a good indication that they have COVID-19. It does not need to be confirmed by a PCR test.

If your child tests positive for COVID-19, (regardless of what type of test was used) they must stay home and isolate. The amount of time will depend on their age and whether they are fully vaccinated:

  • Fully vaccinated or aged 11 or younger -  must stay home and isolate for 5 days from the day symptoms started. After 5 days, they can return to school when symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours after nausea, vomitting or diarrhea). 
  • Not fully vaccinated AND 12 years of age or older, OR immune compromised (regardless of age) - must stay home and isolate for 10 days from the time their symptoms started. After 10 days, they can return to school when symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours for nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea).

In both cases, all other household members (regardless of vaccination status) must also stay home and isolate for the same amount of time as the child that tested positive.

There is no need to do another rapid antigen test if your first test was positive.  A negative test is not required to return to school or work after your isolation period is complete.

Anyone who is sick or has any symptoms of illness, including those not listed in the school and child care screening tool, should stay home and seek assessment from their health care provider, if needed. 

They can return to school when symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours after nausea, vomiting or diarrhea).

This is not a new recommendation. Before the COVID-19 pandemic anyone who had any signs or symptoms of illness should not have attended school or child care. This remains the same during COVID-19. 

At School:

As per Ontario guidance:

  • If the exposure ONLY occurred at school then your child is NOT considered a close contact and can continue to attend school.
  • Public health units will no longer be dismissing cohorts.
  • Any dismissals or closures of a school will depend on operational requirements determined by the school board, or school.

Given the widespread transmission and inability to test all symptomatic individuals, the health unit and/or schools will not be routinely notifying students in classes with a positive case, or if a child/student or staff is absent due to symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Outside of School:

If your child is a close contact of someone outside of school, the steps they need to take will depend on whether they:

Rapid antigen testing is an additional tool that can be used to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Please see letter for families Rapid antigen testing kits for elementary students in Simcoe Muskoka.

Students regardless of vaccination status, can use a rapid antigen test if they have symptoms of COVID-19 (as per the Ontario COVID-19 school and child care screening). Rapid antigen tests can help find out the likelihood that their symptoms are related to COVID-19.

Rapid antigen testing is voluntary. 

How to use a rapid antigen test:

Please follow the instructions provided in the testing kit.

Students should use the test at home and with the help of a parent or caregiver, if needed.

After completing a rapid antigen test, results are available within 15 minutes.

My child tested positive on a rapid antigen test:

A positive result on a rapid antigen test is a good indication that you have COVID-19. It does not need to be confirmed by a PCR test.

If your child tests positive for COVID-19, they must stay home and isolate. The amount of time will depend on their age and whether they are fully vaccinated:

  • Fully vaccinated or aged 11 or younger -  must stay home  and isolate for 5 days from the day symptoms started. After 5 days, they can return to school when symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours. 
  • Not fully vaccinated AND 12 years of age or older, OR immune compromised (regardless of age) - must stay home and isolate for 10 days from the time their symptoms started. After 10 days, they can return to school when symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours after nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea).

There is no need to do another rapid antigen test if your first test was positive. A negative test is not required to return to school or work after your isolation period is complete.

In both cases, all other household members (regardless of vaccination status) must also stay home and isolate for the same amount of time as the child that tested positive.

My child tested negative on a rapid antigen test:

A negative result on a rapid antigen test does not rule out COVID-19. If your child tests negative on a rapid antigen test but has symptoms of COVID-19, or lives in the same house as someone with symptoms, they must stay home and self-isolate. 

Use another rapid antigen test 24 to 48 hours apart. If the result is negative on both tests, students can then return to school when symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours after nausea, vomiting and/or diarhhea).

How to dispose of rapid antigen tests: 

Put COVID-19 home testing devices into your garbage. This includes small plastic components. You can recycle cardboard and paper packaging.

Can my child get a PCR Test?

Most members of the general public, including school aged children, are no longer eligible for publicly funded PCR testing. Eligibility for PCR testing has changed to ensure that PCR tests are available for people most at risk for severe COVID-19 illness.

Rapid antigen testing can be used to find out if your child’s symptoms are related to COVID-19. Results do not need to be confirmed by PCR testing. 

For more information, visit http://covid-19.ontario.ca/exposed.

The COVID-19 school and childcare screening asks about travel outside of Canada in the last 14 days. All students must complete this screening before going to school each day. 

Students who have travelled outside of Canada:

Students who have travelled outside of Canada must self-isolate for 14 days if they do not qualify for a federal quarantine travel exemption. Your child’s ability to return to school after travel outside of Canada will depend on whether they are fully vaccinated.

  • If they are fully vaccinated they may be exempt from federal quarantine. 
  • If they are not fully vaccinated, they are not to attend school/childcare for 14 days, even if they travelled with a vaccinated companion. 

Visit Health Canada’s website for more information about COVID-19 Travel: Checklists for requirements and exemptions.

Students who live with someone who has travelled outside of Canada:

Students who have not travelled outside of Canada, but who live with someone who is under travel quarantine may need to isolate as well. If the person who is under travel quarantine is unable to avoid contact with household members who did not travel, the child’s ability to attend school will depend on whether they are fully vaccinated.

  • If they are fully vaccinated, they can attend school/childcare.
  • If they are not fully vaccinated, they are not to attend school/childcare for the same isolation period as the household member who travelled. 

For more information, read the federal guidance about quarantining with others in the same household.

Most children with COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and can recover at home with a caregiver. For tips about how to care for a sick child who needs to stay at home see this fact sheet. 

If your child has any of the following symptoms call 911: 

  • 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.

At school: Additional layers of protection are required

Beyond the screening and testing you do at home, there are many other health and safety measures in schools to help reduce the risk of COVID-19. 

All publicly funded and private schools are required to follow the direction in the Ontario COVID-19: Health, safety and operational guidance for schools (2021-2022)

The health unit also works closely with local school boards and schools to provide additional recommendations and/or direction, as needed. Every additional layer of protection that is put in place helps to reduce the risk of COVID-19. 

Students in Grades 1 to 12 must wear a mask:

  • in schools, including in hallways and during classes
  • on school transportation

We continue to recommend that school boards and private schools mandate students in kindergarten (JK and SK) to wear masks while attending school in-person during the 2021-2022 school year. Please refer to your school board policy.

Parents and guardians should send two or three masks to school each day so the student can change them at each break and if they become dirty or wet. 

The government of Ontario will also make free high quality three-ply cloth masks available to students, and is encouraging them to be used. 

DO’s 

  • Wear a cloth 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 alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after touching the mask. 
  • Use the ear loops or ties to put on and remove the mask. 
  • Ensure the nose, mouth and chin are fully covered with no gaps.
  • The mask should be able to block light when held up to a bright light source.
  • Replace the mask whenever it becomes damp or dirty. 
  • 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.

DO NOT'S

  • Do not wear masks with exhalation valves or vents.
  • Do not wear mask made of thin fabric or with openings such as lace, mesh or crochet.
  • Do not wear bandanas, scarves, neck warmers 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 is not recommended as the masks inside surface may be exposed to contaminated respiratory droplets as the mask hangs. 
  • Don’t share masks. 
  • Don’t leave used masks within the reach of others. 
  • Don’t reuse masks that are damp, dirty or damaged.

 

Wearing a mask is not required at school, while:

  • 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 possible).

 

Frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizer is one of the most important things we can do to prevent the spread of illness. When at school, encourage your child to:

  • Wash their hands often with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds).
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available, or if their hands are not visibly dirty.
  • Allow hand sanitizer to dry before eating and drinking. 
  • Never eat or drink hand sanitizers. Even small amounts can be dangerous.
  • If sending your child to school with hand sanitizer, avoid products that look like food or beverage containers to avoid possible confusion.
  • Keep hand sanitizer out of reach of younger children. Young children should be supervised when using hand sanitizer.
  • The school will follow guidelines to ensure that the child is separated and cared for while waiting for their parent/guardian to pick them up. Before the student can return to school:

    • Fully vaccinated or aged 11 or younger -  must stay home and isolate for 5 days from the day symptoms started. After 5 days, they can return to school when symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours after nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea).
    • Not fully vaccinated AND 12 years of age or older, OR immune compromised (regardless of age) -  must stay home and isolate for 10 days from the time their symptoms started. After 10 days, they can return to school when symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours after nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea). 

    In both cases, all other household members (regardless of vaccination status) must also stay home and isolate for the same amount of time as the student.

    Household members (siblings, parents/guardians) of the symptomatic student are recommended but not required to leave at the same time as the symptomatic student, unless they also have symptoms. They can complete their day and then will need to isolate, as per the Ontario COVID-19 school and child screening tool.

    It can be upsetting to hear that your child has been exposed to someone with symptoms or who has tested positive for COVID-19.

    New provincial guidance states that individuals only exposed at school with all public health measures in place are not generally considered high-risk contacts.

    This means that:

    • Public Health units will no longer be dismissing cohorts.
    • Any dismissals or closures of a school or child care will be contingent on operational requirements determined by the school board, school and/or child care operator.

    One of the most important things that you can do, is to monitor your child for symptoms by taking the daily COVID-19 school and child care screening. Keep them home from school if any symptoms develop.

    Other public health measures, such as wearing a well fitted mask, washing hands frequently, physical distancing from others, and getting vaccinated (if eligible) can also help to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for your child and others.

    The province has announced additional health and safety measures that will be implemented in January 2022, building on the existing COVID-19: Health, Safety and Operational Guidance for Schools (2021-22). These include:

    • updated and expanded school screening 
    • distributing higher quality masks for teachers and students
    • increased ventilation in schools 
    • pausing high contact extra curriculars.

    For more information, read the announcement here.

    Page last updated: January 18, 2022

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