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

School/Childcare and COVID-19

HPEPH supports the efforts of local schools and school boards to move toward normal conditions within all school settings. Keeping schools open for in-person learning has been vital to supporting student mental health and well-being, which has remained a top priority. This will be further enhanced by the withdrawal of additional restrictions and return to more normalized classroom and school interactions with peers and caring adults.

Students should be permitted to interact with one another, including removing cohorting/zoning at recess, reconfiguring learning spaces to allow students to sit in groupings and/or circles, and to facilitating peer conversation and collaboration, both during class and lunch periods.

Precautions remain in place to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the school setting.  These include:

  • Enhanced cleaning
  • Access to PPE
  • Access to vaccination for anyone aged 5 and over.
  • Masks will be required for:
    • Household members of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are presumed positive.
    • Close contacts of positive and presumed cases of COVID-19.
    • Individuals who have returned from international travel.

Parents/caregivers continue to be 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 can pass the screening tool.

How do I screen my child for symptoms each day?

Other Childcare/School and COVID-19 FAQ

What happens if my child is exposed to someone with symptoms, or someone with confirmed COVID-19?

All individuals who screen positive on the COVID-19 screening tool are presumed to have COVID-19 and must isolate as outlined on our self-isolation page. Individuals will have different testing and isolation requirements, depending on their vaccination status and whether they live with the person who tests positive.

If you still have questions after reviewing the information above, you can contact the province’s toll-free line which can help answer questions regarding evolving COVID-19 testing and isolation guidance. The line can be reached at: 1-888-777-0730, and is available from 8am-6pm, Monday to Sunday.

Can my child get COVID-19 testing because they have symptoms?

What happens if my child tests positive for COVID-19 on a Rapid Antigen Test?

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.
  • The child may be provided with a PCR test under limited circumstances
  • The child will be able to return to school once they have passed the provincial screening.

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. Follow directions on the screening tool for more information.

How do I inform my child’s school about their illness/test results?

Continue to report your child’s absence to the school as you would usually do. However, since most contacts/exposures in the school setting are low risk, you are not required to report your child’s PCR/RAT results or COVID-19 symptoms to the school or child care as part of absence reporting.

How will I find out about positive students/staff in my child’s cohort/school?

Due to a change in guidance, there is now no reporting requirement for COVID-19 in the school setting. Cohorts will not be routinely notified or dismissed in response to positive cases of COVID-19, or individuals absent due to symptoms. Due to the many precautions in place, most contacts/exposures within the school setting are low risk.

Since COVID-19 has become more transmissible, all individuals should be aware on a daily basis to screen for symptoms and follow public health guidance.

How will I know if there is risk of exposure to COVID-19 at my child’s school?

With the transmissibility of Omicron, we must now assume that the virus is widespread in the community, and every interaction poses a potential risk of exposure. However, it is important to remember that protocols have been in place for many years to identify and respond to infectious disease outbreaks in school settings. At this stage of the pandemic, we are transitioning to this approach for COVID-19. When the absentee rate in a school or child care setting increases sharply (30% above baseline), a notification will be provided to school families with information on any additional public health measures that should be followed.

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.

If your child is age 5 or older, they are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. Find clinic hours, locations, as well as FAQ about youth vaccines, on our COVID-19 vaccination for kids & youth 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.
  • 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.
  • 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..

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 mask. 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, so they will be prepared to wear it if/when needed. Discuss the benefits of wearing a mask with your child and the importance of being kind and respectful to others who may choose to wear one.
  • Plan daily routines for before and after school. Make a list of what to pack for school in the morning (e.g. hand sanitizer, mask if your child is wearing one, 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 mask in the laundry, etc.).
  • Remind your child about the measures that are in place to keep them healthy and safe:
    • Sanitizing hands before entering school and classrooms.
    • Washing or sanitizing hands several times throughout the day.
    • Wearing a mask as needed or due to preference.
    • Covering coughs and sneezes properly.
    • Not sharing food or personal items like pencils or erasers.

My child is having a hard time adjusting to the changes in school processes. 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 many 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.

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

While widespread masking in school is no longer required, there are certain situations where individuals are required to wear a mask in public settings. These include:

  • Household contacts of a positive case of COVID-19 must mask for 10 days after their last possible exposure (even if they are exempt from isolation requirements)
  • Close contacts of a positive case of COVID-19 must mask for 10 days after their last possible exposure (even if they are exempt from isolation requirements)
  • Individuals who have returned from international travel must mask for 14 days after re-entry to Canada.

In addition, students and educators may choose to continue to wearing a mask if they wish. Wearing a mask is recommended for any individual who is immunocompromised, or otherwise concerned about potential serious illness related to COVID-19.

What is considered to be an appropriate face covering?

Non-medical masks or face coverings should:

  • fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops
  • maintain their shape after washing and drying
  • be made of at least two layers of tightly woven material (such as cotton or linen)
  • be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose and mouth without gaping

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 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 at ontario.ca/exposed, please contact HPEPH’s COVID-19 information line by completing our online inquiry form.

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COVID-19 PROTOCOLS

Symptoms or exposure? Visit www.ontario.ca/exposed for the most up to date information about what to do.

For the most up to date information on current provincial restrictions, visit https://covid-19.ontario.ca/public-health-measures.

The Ministry of Health has launched a new toll-free line as an additional resource to help answer questions from the public regarding evolving COVID-19 testing and isolation guidance. The line can be reached at 1-888-777-0730, and is available from 8 am to 6 pm, 7 days a week.

COVID-19 VACCINES IN HPEPH

Appointments for individuals 5+ can be booked through the provincial vaccine booking site, or by calling 1-833-943-3900 from 8 am to 8 pm, 7 days a week.  Visit the HPEPH vaccine booking web page for details.