The Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) and the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit (LGLDHU) both plan to work close together with the four school districts in their areas to both monitor and contain any cases of COVID-19 that may appear in schools.
All schools in Ontario were shut down in spring during the early weeks of the pandemic as part of the provincial public health state of emergency. Over the summer the Ministry of Education developed new health safety guidelines for both schools and daycares to allow their reopening in September.
Both the regional health units and the school districts consulted each other on reopening plans for local schools under the new guidelines, including increase sanitization and infection control routines. Part of those discussions included plans to assign public health nurses to a number of schools in each district, with responsibility both for monitoring student and staff health, and also assessing whether or not an actual case of COVID-19 had developed, along with doing follow-up checks with schools and families on any confirmed cases..
“Our priority is to make the school year as safe as possible for everyone,” stated Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, EOHU chief medical officer. “With the return to in-person classes, it’s possible that we may see some cases of COVID-19 at our local schools. However, parents should be assured that plans are in place to quickly identify cases and their contacts, along with infection prevention measures that will help protect students and minimize spread of the virus in schools.”
EOHU officials will work with school districts on any confirmed COVID-19 case to determine the range of exposure and trace all contacts with an infected person and also make sure an infected person goes into self-isolation. That also includes notifying families as soon as possible about the situation and providing information and advice to all parents and children who may have been exposed to the disease.
Information on and response to any confirmed outbreaks will be posted on the EOHU and school or school district websites. The EOHU investigation of suspected cases will also determine if class cancellation or school closure is necessary as part of the outbreak control measures.
“We understand that timely and transparent communication is important both for helping to alleviate worry, and for keeping our students as healthy as possible,” stated Dr. Roumeliotis, adding that residents should also avoid gossiping about suspected infection cases, whether in person or through social media. “It’s important to remember that children’s privacy needs to be respected. Our kids deserve kindness and compassion, not to be stigmatized.”
As autumn approaches, the chance of ordinary head colds or cases of influenza will also increase. These viral diseases have symptoms in common with COVID-19.
“We’re urging every to remain vigilant for possible COVID-19 symptoms, and to stay home if they are ill or experiencing symptoms,” stated Dr. Roumeliotis. “However, we are also cautioning against jumping to conclusions that all respiratory symptoms or absences from school are related to COVID-19, since, in many cases, symptoms may be due to other causes.”
Parents of students can get more information from the EOHU website at www.eohu.ca/coronavirus.