Skip to main content Skip to sitemap
Hastings and Prince Edward Public Health
Jump to Sitemap Jump to Content

Statement of Support from Local Medical Officers of Health Regarding the Return to School

Hastings, Prince Edward, Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington Counties/Jan. 14, 2022

The Medical Officers of Health from Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) and Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington Public Health (KFL&APH) have released a joint statement regarding the upcoming return to in-person learning for students and educators across the region.

To all students, school families, education and school transportation staff,

As we enter yet another year of the pandemic, we remain committed to working with local school communities to help students stay in class and to do so as safely    as possible. We support the return to in-person learning on January 17. Keeping students in class is beneficial for mental, social, and physical health.

Throughout the pandemic, public health measures have been effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in schools. While the risk of COVID-19 cannot be eliminated when community transmission is high, risk of transmission in schools is significantly reduced by the many layers of protection that have been put in place, including:

  • Screening for symptoms before attending school and staying home with symptoms of illness
  • Thorough cleaning and sanitization
  • Cohorting as much as possible, physical distancing, and masking, including access to three-ply masks for students, as needed
  • Frequent hand hygiene
  • Active screening and isolation of individuals with symptoms, their household members, and high-risk contacts
  • Enhanced ventilation and HEPA filters as outlined by the Ministry of Education
  • High levels of vaccination in students aged 12 to 18 years, and  rising levels of vaccination in students aged 5 to 11 years
  • Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) for students and staff in schools and child care
  • Take home PCR tests for students who develop symptoms at school, when available
  • Reporting of higher than normal absenteeism rates to public health which will trigger a review of infection prevention and control measures in the school

The COVID-19 monitoring and response strategy has changed. We have had to make changes to how we respond to the virus. The Omicron variant is highly transmissible, and spreads at a rapid rate and therefore widespread testing has limited value in slowing the virus. As a result, all individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 can be presumed to be  infected with the virus and must isolate as directed. Without confirmatory testing, these individuals will not be permitted to attend school until their isolation period is complete.

Public Health has already established protocols in place under The Health Protection and Promotion Act, 1990 to respond to infectious disease outbreaks in school settings. When the absentee rate in a school or child care setting increases  sharply by approximately 30 per cent, a notification will be provided to school families with information on any additional public health measures that should be followed. Routine notification of families and exclusion of cohorts will not be taking place. Exposures that occur only in the school setting, with public health measures in place, will not typically be considered high-risk, and therefore, no action is required by others in a cohort – other than regular symptom monitoring.

We must all work together to keep the risk as low as possible. Everyone in the community, including staff, students, and families, must monitor diligently  for illness and follow directions for isolation when applicable. To help limit the spread of illness in the community, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

Together with our school community partners, we look forward to welcoming students back to in-person learning. The return to class will provide immeasurable benefits to the mental and physical well-being of all students and  their families. We know that there may be questions and concerns in response to changes. and you can be reassured that we will continue to work with school partners to support a safe and healthy return to school throughout these changes.

Sincerely,

Dr. Ethan Toumishey       
Acting Medical Officer of Health
Hastings Prince Edward Public Health

Dr. Piotr Oglaza
Medical Officer of Health
KFL&A Public Health

-30-

Media Contacts:

Maureen Hyland, Communications Specialist,
mhyland@hpeph.ca

Emily Tubbs, Communications Specialist
etubbs@hpeph.ca

About Hastings Prince Edward Public Health

Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) is a public health agency that serves the counties of Hastings and Prince Edward from four local offices. We monitor the health of our local population, deliver programs and services within our communities, and help develop healthy public policies. We provide information and support in many areas to help improve the health and well-being of our residents. Together with our communities, we help people become as healthy as they can be. For more information, please visit hpePublicHealth.ca. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

We invite community partners and residents to share this Media Release with their respective networks.

Interested in receiving monthly updates about HPEPH programs and services?

Sign up for our e-newsletter

Effective January 5, Ontario has moved to Modified Step 2 of the Roadmap to Reopen, and students will temporarily pivot to remote learning.  A summary of current restrictions is available at covid-19.ontario.ca/public-health-measures.

SYMPTOMS OR EXPOSURE TO COVID-19?

Visit www.ontario.ca/exposed if you have symptoms of COVID-19, have tested positive, or you are a high risk contact.

COVID-19 VACCINES IN HPEPH

All eligible individuals must book an appointment for an immunization clinic at Ontario.ca/book-vaccine, or make an appointment at a participating local pharmacy. Please visit covid-19.ontario.ca/vaccine-locations for location and registration information.

For information about vaccinations for children and youth, visit  hpePublicHealth.ca/covid-19-vaccines-youth.