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As the school year progresses, and the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we will continue to update the information on this page to support you. Please check back often.

Reduce the risk of COVID-19 at school

All students MUST complete a Daily Student Screening Tool before going to 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. Schools will be confirming that students have completed and passed daily self-screening. 

See My child did not pass the COVID-19 daily screening (March 11, 2021) for more information. 

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 been applied to 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 1-12) must wear a mask. Those in JK/SK are strongly encouraged but not required to wear a mask. Please follow your school board/school direction related to this.
  • 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 metres (6 feet) away from others who are not part of your immediate family (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

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 walking the rest of the way. This helps to reduce traffic and crowds around the school. Families should where masks outside when physical distancing from others cannot be maintained and always when on school property.
  • The Guide to Reopening Ontario's Schools recommends physical distancing between students and staff, as much as possible. 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 metres (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 or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after play.
  • When outdoors if your child is not able to stay physically distanced from others while outdoors (2 metres/6 feet) from others, they are required to wear a mask. If they are able to maintain distance from others encourage them to keep their mask on when heading outside and only remove it once they reach their designated yard area. Please follow your school board/school direction related to masking outdoors.
  • 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 1 to 12 must wear masks:
    o in schools, including in hallways and during classes
    o on school transportation
    o outdoors during recess, when distance cannot be maintained
  • Students in JK/SK are encouraged but not required to wear a mask in indoor spaces.
  • Some school boards and schools require JK/SK students to wear masks.Please check your school or school board policy. The health unit strongly encourages masking for JK/SK students who are able to tolerate it and we support school boards and child care operators who choose to mandate masking at the JK/SK level as we are aware that they are balancing the health and safety of everyone in their facilities.

 

How to safely use a mask at school

Parents and guardians should send 2-3 masks to school each day so the student can change them at each break and if they become dirty or wet.

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 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 
  • 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.

DON’TS

  • Don’t wear masks with exhalation valves or vents
  • Don’t 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
School-based staff who are regularly in contact with students are provided with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Staff are required to wear medical masks and are encouraged to wear eye protection (such as a face shield or goggles) while in the classroom. Both a medical mask and eye protection should be worn if staff are unable to maintain 2 metres (6 feet) from students. Additional PPE such as gloves and gowns may be needed and should be available.

 

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, and to only use the gym if physical distancing measures can be followed).

 

Storing and Washing Masks

  • Students should always be encouraged to wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after using their masks.
  • 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 students can remove and keep their masks 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.
  • Wash masks with hot, soapy water and let them dry completely before wearing them again.

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 or 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?" (revised March 11, 2021) which includes information about when your child(ren) can return to school.

Your child’s school or child care may request that you complete an attestation form (revised March 12, 2021) confirming that you have taken the actions needed prior to sending them back to school.

If you notice that your child has new or worsening symptoms:

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:

Everyone in a household MUST stay home if a child or anyone else has COVID-19 symptoms until one of the following occurs:
1. The person with symptoms is tested for COVID-19 and test results are negative; OR
2. An alternate diagnosis is given by a healthcare provider for the person who has symptoms.

If the person with symptoms in the household does NOT get tested, everyone in the household MUST stay home for:

  • 14 days from the last contact with the ill person with symptoms if the ill person can self-isolate away from the rest of the household; or 
  • 24 days from start of the ill person’s symptom(s) if the ill person CANNOT self-isolate away from the rest of the household. 
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
For tips about how to care for a sick child who needs to self-isolate while helping other household members stay healthy, see this fact sheet. Children should also avoid tobacco or other smoke.

For easy reference, please see our document: My child did not pass the COVID-19 daily screening, now what? (revised March 11, 2021).

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.
  • All household members of the symptomatic child must isolate until the symptomatic individual receives a negative COVID-19 test or an alternate diagnosis from a healthcare professional.

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.

Household members may also return to school/child care/work once the symptomatic child has received a negative result.

Medical notes or proof of negative tests are not required to return to school. Your child’s school or child care may request that you complete an attestation form (revised March 12, 2021) confirming that you have taken the actions needed before sending them back to school.
 
Please note: If your child has had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or if the child/someone in the household has 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:

    Everyone in the household MUST stay home until public health has followed up and provided direction. They student can return to school when:

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

2) no longer have a fever (without use of medication)

3) symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours

Students do not need clearance testing or medical notes to return to school. Your child’s school or child care may request that you complete an attestation form (revised March 12, 2021) confirming that you have taken the actions needed before sending them back to school.

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. However everyone in the household MUST stay home for:

  • 14 days from the last contact with the ill person if the ill person can self-isolate away from the rest of the household; or
  • 24 days from start of the ill person’s symptom(s) if the ill person CANNOT self-isolate away from the rest of the household. 

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. Household members may return to school/child care/work once the symptomatic child has received an alternate diagnosis.

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 child care 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 March 12, 2021) confirming that you have taken the actions needed prior to sending them back to school.

What happens if there is COVID-19 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 have worked together to develop a plan for 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 requiring:

  • All students, staff and essential visitors who have even ONE new or worsening 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 guidelines to ensure that the child is separated and cared for while waiting for their parent/guardian to pick them up. See When COVID-19 Symptoms Develop at School or Child Care for more information 

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.

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:

  • Contacting any students, staff or school visitors who test positive for COVID-19. 
  • 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, public health will follow up with you directly.
  • If you do not receive a letter from public health, 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 close 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.

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

  • Your child should stay home and self-isolate and seek testing as per public health guidance.
  • A person who is a close contact must stay out of school for 14 days (longer if they develop symptoms that last longer than the 14 days)
  • Household members of the close contact are required to stay home except for essential reasons for the duration of the contact’s quarantine period. Essential reasons include: attending work/school/child care and essential errands such as groceries, attending medical appointments or picking up prescriptions
  • If your child receives positive test results for COVID-19, you will receive direct directions from the health unit on next steps for the child and other household members.  

Healthy kids learn better

You and your family have already been practicing many of the actions needed to help keep you healthy. 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 2 metres (6 feet) physical distancing from everyone else. 

Going out:

  • When your child is in public or around anyone outside of your household, help them to practice physical distancing by staying 2 metres (6 feet) apart to help avoid spreading COVID-19.
  • Ensure your child wears a mask inside public buildings and on public transit. and when physical distancing cannot be maintained outside. Exceptions are for young children and people with medical or cognitive reasons.
  • When your child is wearing a mask teach them not touch it. Doing so might put germs onto their mask from their hand, or onto their hand from their mask. Encourage them to wash hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after putting their mask 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 at school and off school property.
  • 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. 
  • Establish daily screen-free times and encourage physical activities and participation in other hobbies. Learn more about physical activity, sleep and screen time for children at: Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines.
  • 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

Children who eat well can focus longer and are ready to learn at school. Eating well and staying hydrated is important to help fight off illness.

If affording enough healthy food to feed your family is a challenge, call 2-1-1 or visit 211 Ontario to find out about supports that are available in your community

Here are some things to keep in mind when packing healthy and safe snacks and lunches:

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: April 21, 2021

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