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Hastings and Prince Edward Public Health
elementary students in class wearing face masks

School and COVID-19: Guidance for Parents, Guardians and Caregivers

COVID-19 Family’s Guide – 2021-2022 School Year – A PDF guide for families to help in planning for the return to in-person classes.

HPEPH is working with local school communities to welcome your child back to in-person learning this fall. Precautions remain in place to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the school setting.  These include:

  • Enhanced cleaning and as much distancing as possible between students, students and staff and amongst staff members.
  • Cohorting of students will help reduce the number of people exposed to one another in the school setting.
  • Daily screening ensures that any student or staff with symptoms (even those who are vaccinated) will not be permitted to attend school (or will be sent home if they get sick at school).
  • Testing is recommended for students/staff who have any symptoms of the virus. Individuals who do not seek testing will be required to isolate for a minimum of 10 days.
  • When someone tests positive for COVID-19, HPEPH will work with the school to identify and notify individuals who are required to isolate.
  • Access to vaccination for anyone born in 2009 and earlier.

Changes to COVID-19 procedures for the 2021/2022 school year include:

  • Distancing is encouraged but masks are not required when students are outdoors.
  • Masks are not required for sports outside and encouraged when students participate in low-impact physical activity indoors.
  • Use of shared spaces (libraries and cafeterias).
  • Inter-school clubs, activities, and bands (without wind instruments) extra-curriculars, use of lockers, field trips, school visitors and community use of schools are permitted, with infection control measures such as screening, masking, hand hygiene and as much distancing as possible in place.
  • Wind instruments are permitted within cohorts (eg. music class) when distancing can be maintained.

Please remember, parents/caregivers are required to screen their child daily before they attend school. If your child has any symptoms of COVID-19, they cannot attend school until they receive a negative test result or other medical diagnosis.

How do I screen my child for symptoms each day?

My child does not feel well, and they did not pass the COVID-19 screening tool. What should I do?

  • Please refer to the next steps of the screening tool and the Return to School Protocols. Please note, individuals who are fully vaccinated (it has been 14 days since second of two doses of an approved vaccine), who are household members of a symptomatic individual or a close contact of a case of COVID-19, do not typically need to isolate, however public health will assess each case individually and provide guidance including isolation requirements. Review the Public Health Ontario How to Care for a Child Who Needs to Self-Isolate fact sheet for more information.

Other School and COVID-19 FAQ

Cases and Contacts

What happens when there is a positive case or school outbreak?

If there is a positive case of COVID-19 at your child’s school, HPEPH will work with the school to identify affected cohorts. If your child is identified as a high risk contact of the positive case, your family will receive direct communication from HPEPH.

  • A voice message and letter will be distributed by your child’s school, on behalf of HPEPH.
  • HPEPH will then follow up directly with each close contact, to request additional information.

If an individual in your child’s cohort tests positive for COVID-19, but your child is fully vaccinated, your child will not need to isolate unless they develop symptoms of the virus. To learn more:  

How does Public Health identify high-risk contacts?

  • Every case is investigated by public health and contacts are identified. All contacts are reviewed by public health staff to determine whether they are at a high risk or low risk of COVID-19 transmission.
  • High risk contacts are considered to be individuals who have been in close contact with the positive case during their contagious period, who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
    • High risk contacts are advised to isolate as soon as they are identified, for 10 days following their potential date of exposure. This isolation ensures they are not interacting with others during their contagious period.
  • Low risk contacts are considered to be individuals who have had very brief or distanced interaction with the positive case, which results in a very low risk of COVID-19 transmission. Individuals who had close contact with the positive case, but who are fully vaccinated (14 days since second dose of COVID-19) are also considered to be low risk contacts unless they develop symptoms.
    • Low risk contacts are required to self monitor for symptoms, and seek testing if symptoms develop. Unless symptoms develop, they can continue to attend work or school, while practicing regular public health precautions.
  • Please note – Local public health units will be reviewing and assessing students’ COVID-19 vaccination information together with class lists to support case, contact and outbreak management within schools. This is only applicable to students eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • All information collected by the public health unit will be kept confidential and used only for these purposes. Further, these immunization records are being disclosed to local public health units under Section 39(2)(a) of the Personal Health Information and Privacy Act (PHIPA) as a disclosure that is made for the purposes of the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA).

Screening, Symptoms, and Testing

What if my child develops symptoms at school, including before/after school care affiliated with the school?

  • Parents will be notified to immediately pick-up their child.
  • The sick child will be isolated and cared for in a room until parent/guardian arrives.
  • Staff attending to the sick child will be wearing Personal Protective Equipment.
  • The Principal will coordinate cleaning and disinfection of the space and items used by the child.
  • If the child is ill, has no known exposure to someone with COVID-19, has not travelled out of country, and a Health Care Provider has diagnosed them with an illness that is not COVID-19 (e.g. ear infection), the student can return to school 24 hours after their last symptom has resolved.

What if COVID-19 testing is recommended for my child?

  • Visit your local assessment centre.
  • The child must stay in self-isolation while waiting for test results. They can not attend school in person.
  • Household members of the symptomatic individual who are not fully vaccinated are required to self-isolate while waiting for the test result.
  • Follow advice from the Assessment Centre and HPE Public Health.
  • Please note, rapid antigen testing is used for screening purposes only and should NOT be used for diagnosis of acute COVID-19 infection. Individuals who are symptomatic or fail screening must receive a PRC test at a provincial testing centre.
  • If COVID-19 testing is advised, but not completed, the child and household contacts are required to isolate for a minimum of 10 days from their symptom onset.

Testing has been recommended for my child. Who in my family needs to be tested along with my child?

If your testing is recommended for your child, and everyone else in the family is well, no testing of other family members is needed. However, if testing has been recommended because your child has symptoms, any household members who are not fully vaccinated must isolate until the symptomatic individual receives negative test results. If your child tests positive for COVID-19, HPEPH will contact you/your child and make a plan for additional testing of all close contacts.

Do I need a note from a doctor before my child goes back to school/child care or a copy of a negative test result?

No, you do not need a note from your doctor or proof of a negative test before your child returns to school/childcare.

What happens when my child tests negative for COVID-19?

  • If the child’s test result is negative, and they are not a contact of someone who has tested positive, and have not travelled out of country, they can return to school 24 hours after their symptoms begin to resolve (48 hours for gastro intestinal symptoms).
  • Children who are a contact of a positive case or have travelled out of country must isolate for a full 10 days, even with a negative result. This is because illness can occur up to 10 days after an exposure to COVID-19. These children and their families will be followed by HPE Public Health.

What happens if my child tests positive for COVID-19?

  • Review the School Protocol When Staff or Students Test Positive for COVID-19.
  • The child and household contacts who are not fully vaccinated will need to self-isolate for 10 days and until symptom-free for 24 hours.
  • All students, staff and social contacts determined to be at high risk of exposure will be directed to self-isolate for 10 days and follow Public Health guidance regarding testing.
  • Classroom cohorts will generally be considered as high-risk contacts, however individuals who are fully vaccinated will not be considered high-risk unless they develop symptoms.
  • Confidentiality will be maintained by HPEPH and schools as necessary protocols are followed.

What if my child has an ongoing medical condition that mimics COVID-19 symptoms?

Some medical conditions, like allergies, are predictable and the symptoms do mimic COVID-19. Use the most up to date screening tool and follow the guidance that is provided.

Vaccination

COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and it works. Vaccination is the best way for eligible individuals to protect themselves, and those around them, from serious illness related to the virus. In addition, vaccination will help us all get back to the things we love – safely. It is important to know that the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory but can help reduce the risk of serious illness related to COVID-19.

When exposed to a case of COVID-19, students who are fully vaccinated will not be required to isolate or miss school, unless they develop symptoms of the virus. As vaccination rates increase, infection prevention and control measures in schools may decrease over time.

Please note – Local public health units will be reviewing and assessing students’ COVID-19 vaccination information together with class lists to support case, contact and outbreak management within schools. This is only applicable to students eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

All information collected by the public health unit will be kept confidential and used only for these purposes. Further, these immunization records are being disclosed to local public health units under Section 39(2)(a) of the Personal Health Information and Privacy Act (PHIPA) as a disclosure that is made for the purposes of the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA).

If your child is 12 years of age or over, they are eligible for Pfizer vaccine at all HPEPH walk-in clinics. Find clinic hours, locations, as well as FAQ about youth vaccines, on our COVID-19 vaccines page.

Protecting Your Child

What can I do as a parent/caregiver to help keep the school community safe?

  • Screen your child each day for illness. If your child has any symptoms of COVID-19, they must stay home and testing is recommended.
  • Get your child vaccinated for COVID-19, if they are eligible. Vaccination is the best way to reduce your child’s risk of COVID-19. If they are fully vaccinated, they can continue to attend school even if someone in their cohort tests positive for the virus (as long as they don’t develop symptoms).
  • Keep as much distance as possible between you and others (2 metres is best)anytime you are on school property (during drop-off/pick-up, interactions with teacher/staff or other parents)
  • Be prepared to pick up your child if they show symptoms at school. Make sure your contact information is current at school, including emergency contacts and individuals authorized to pick up your child(ren). If that list includes anyone who is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, consider identifying an alternate person.
  • Plan for possible transition to remote learning.  If a close contact of your child (within or outside of school) tests positive for COVID-19, your child may need to stay home and isolate as directed by public health. If transmission is increasing in our community or if multiple children or staff test positive for COVID-19, cohorts or schools may pivot to remote learning.
  • Plan for transportation:
    • If your child rides a bus, face coverings while on the bus are mandatory for students Grades 1-12 and strongly encouraged for students in Kindergarten. Remind your child about the importance of following bus rules, including assigned seating and physical distancing, if possible.
    • If carpooling, plan on every child in the carpool and the driver wearing face coverings for the entire trip. Consider finding families within your child’s group or cohort at school to be part of the carpool.

What else can I do to help my child stay healthy and safe?

  • Make sure your child is up-to-date with all recommended childhood vaccines. Contact your health care provider to get your child up to date. All school-age children should get an influenza (flu) vaccine every season, unless otherwise directed by a health care provider.
  • Practice proper hand washing techniques at home, especially before and after eating, and after sneezing, coughing, and adjusting a face cover. Make hand washing fun by singing a song that lasts at least 20 seconds and explain to your child why hand washing is important.
  • Practice putting on and taking off a face covering safely with your child.
  • Plan daily routines for before and after school. Make a list of what to pack for school in the morning (e.g. hand sanitizer, an extra face covering, snacks and lunch, and a personal water bottle) and what to do when your child returns home from school (e.g. wash hands immediately, put face coverings in the laundry, etc.).
  • Remind your child about the new measures that are in place to keep them healthy and safe:

My child is having a hard time adjusting to the return to school. How can I help them feel at ease?

  • Have an open conversation about what it is that’s worrying them, encourage them to ask questions.
  • Let them know that school processes are still in place to help them stay safe, and it is important to respect these processes.
  • Let your child know that it is normal to have feelings of stress or anxiety and that it’s okay to express their feelings and talk about them.
  • Remind children about the positives of returning to school – that they will be able to see their friends and educators, and continue learning new things.
  • Create or review before and after school routines with your child, such as preparing things to pack for school in the morning (e.g. lunch bag, reusable water bottle, face covering, hand sanitizer) and things to do when you return home (e.g. washing hands).

What else can I do to support my child as they return to school?

HPEPH recognizes that everyone is tired of the pandemic. However, we all continue to have a role to play to prevent the spread of illness. As your children return to school, please encourage them to respect and maintain public health guidelines. In addition, do what you can to be well, stay positive, and keep connected. For more information, visit our resilience web page where you will find 10 ways parents can help children and youth build resilience to help them cope with challenging situations.

Masks

Is my child allowed to wear one mask for the entire day and what is the recommended number of masks?

Your child is allowed to wear one non-medical mask/face covering for the entire day. However, if the non-medical mask/face covering becomes soiled with a cough or sneeze or if it becomes wet or soiled in any other way, it should be changed. Consider sending a back-up mask with your child, in case one is soiled during the school day.

To learn more about cleaning and washing face coverings, please visit Health Canada’s web page.

What steps can children take to put on, take off and store their mask at school?

Here are some steps children can take to put on a mask:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before touching the mask.
  • If none is available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Ensure hair is away from the face.
  • Place the face covering over the nose and mouth and secure to the head or ears with its ties or elastics.
  • Adjust if needed to ensure nose and mouth are fully covered.
  • The mask should fit snugly to the cheeks and there should not be any gaps.
  • Wash hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after adjusting your mask.

Steps to take off a mask:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • If none is available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Remove the face covering by un-tying it or removing the loops from the ears.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask when removing it.
  • Store the face covering in a paper bag, envelope, Tupperware, or something that does not retain moisture if you will be wearing it again.
  • After removing the face covering, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.

disposable mask can be re-used, so long as it is not damp, damaged or dirty and has been stored between uses as described above. At the end of a full day’s wear, or if the disposable mask has become damp, dirty or damaged, it is best to throw out the mask.

How do I wash or re-use a cloth mask?

  • You can wash the masks with other laundry using a hot water cycle.
  • For hand washing, use laundry detergent and water as hot as it is safe, wash, rinse and then dry thoroughly.
  • Cloth masks can be re-used throughout the day if not soiled and undamaged. With clean hands, remove the mask from your face and fold it in half so that the outer surface is inwards (so that the contaminated outer surface is not contacting anything during storage) and place it in a clean, sealable bag until ready to use it again the same day. Do not leave a mask that has absorbed moisture from your breath in a non-breathable bag or container for more than an hour or so.
  • Disposable masks should not be washed, reused or recycled.

For more information on cleaning and re-using a mask, please visit Health Canada’s web page.

Is anyone exempt from wearing a mask?

Wearing a mask is mandatory for all students in grades 1-12 in all school boards while indoors. The following students are possibly exempt from the requirements of wearing a face covering while inside:

  • Students engaging in low-impact physical activity indoors
  • Students engaging in high-impact physical activity outdoors
  • Students in Kindergarten.
  • Students who have a medical condition rendering them unable to wear a non-medical mask or face covering safely.
  • Students who cannot apply or remove a non-medical mask or face covering without assistance.
  • Students who cannot wear a non-medical mask or face covering or cannot cover their face in a way that would appropriately control the source of droplets for reasons of religion or other protections under the Ontario Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H. 19, as amended.

If your child is unable to wear a mask, please speak to the School Principal and/or teacher about your child’s exemption.

Is face shield considered to be an appropriate face covering?

Face shields are not equivalent to non-medical masks for source protection and are best suited to be used in addition to a non-medical mask, but not alone. Any non-medical mask that covers the mouth and nose, ensuring a barrier that limits the community transmission, would be appropriate.

Should I label my child’s face covering?

Personal items being brought to school (e.g. backpack, clothing, sun protection, water bottles, food, face coverings) should be labelled with your child’s name.

Other Questions

I have another question not listed on this web page. Who do I contact?

If you are not able to find answers to your questions on our website, or through the online school screening tool, please contact HPEPH’s COVID-19 information line by completing our online inquiry form, or by dialing 613-966-5500 or 1-800-267-2803.

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COVID-19 VACCINES IN HPEPH

Individuals turning 12 and over in 2021 who have not yet had a first dose, or those who meet the minimum second dose interval are now eligible to attend HPEPH walk-in clinics. To view the schedule, visit the Booking and Eligibility Page.

If you attended a clinic and did not receive an email copy of your vaccination receipt you can download a copy off the provincial booking site at covid19.ontariohealth.ca.

PHARMACY-BASED VACCINATIONS

Individuals turning 12 and over in 2021 can also receive their vaccination at participating local pharmacies. Please visit covid-19.ontario.ca/vaccine-locations for location and registration information.

CURRENT RESTRICTIONS IN HPEPH

On Friday, July 16 at 12:01 a.m., Ontario moved to Step 3  of the the Roadmap to Reopen. We must all continue to follow the public health measures, advice and restrictions. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 100 people in Step 3, and distancing must be maintained. For more information, visit our COVID-19 page.

POTENTIAL EXPOSURE TO COVID-19?

If you are concerned about potential exposure to a positive case of COVID-19, please be reassured that any contacts of a confirmed case will be contacted directly and monitored by public health.

Low-risk and indirect contacts should self monitor for symptoms for 10 days from the time of potential exposure and seek testing if symptoms develop. Low risk contacts do not need to isolate unless symptoms develop, and can continue to attend school/work/daycare while monitoring for symptoms.