Dr. Roumelioutis, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU), joined Dr. Paula Stewart, medical officer of health with the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit (LGLHU), to update the CDSBEO on the current status of COVID-19 and school reopening.
“Multiple layers of protection are very important for the return to school in Ontario,” said Dr. Roumeliotis. “Well fitted masks are very important, along with the enhanced cohorting measures, daily screening, improved ventilation, and of course, we need to continue to promote vaccination. We do know that with Omicron you are certainly well protected against being admitted to hospital with vaccination, versus those who are unvaccinated. Two doses will prevent severe disease, although it will not prevent infection, and a third booster dose will increase both protection against contracting the virus as well as severe disease.”
The number of cases peaked in December, and although the cases are gradually decreasing, they’re still very high since a surge over Christmas. The strategy has changed since then; the numbers are too high to follow up on every individual case and identify high-risk contacts for everyone, so instead, the province is allowing the public to manage their respiratory infections themselves and go for medical help if needed.
If someone suspects they have COVID-19, they should isolate for a period and adhere to all public health measures even more strictly. Children under 12, and anyone fully vaccinated, should isolate for at least five days until their symptoms have continued improving for 24 to 48 hours. They should wear a fitted mask for those five days, maintain two metres of distance, and avoid seniors and anyone with weak immune systems. Anyone 12 and older who isn’t fully vaccinated should isolate for at least ten days until their symptoms have shown to improve.
Members of the same household as someone with symptoms and/or a positive test must also isolate for the same length of time as the person with symptoms. It is recommended that anyone with symptoms or a positive test inform potential high-risk contacts of their status, as they will have to isolate as well; COVID is contagious a few days before symptoms begin to show.
Schools will be handing out rapid antigen tests for use by people with symptoms. Two tests should be taken 24 to 48 hours apart, as a single negative test does not rule out COVID. If one of the tests is positive, assume it’s COVID and follow the isolation protocols. Even if both tests are negative, then it is unlikely to be COVID, but isolation is still needed until symptoms improve for 24 to 48 hours.
Health officials are doing everything they can to ensure schools can stay open. According to data presented by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, school closures are associated with substantial harm to students’ mental health; social isolation is a major contributor to the worsening of children’s mental health in Ontario.
“A study of Ontario children aged 6 to 18 with no pre-existing psychiatric diagnosis demonstrated increased clinically significant symptoms of depression and/or anxiety,” said Dr. Roumeliotis. “The proportion of children with clinically significant symptoms of depression and/or anxiety nearly tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic to 1 in 4 for depression and 1 in 5 for anxiety. »