Runny nose, headache struck from symptom list on daily Ontario school COVID screener

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter

Ontario has dropped runny noses and headaches from the list of COVID-19 symptoms that require children to stay home from school or daycare and get tested for the virus.

The province’s updated online screening tool now lists five categories of symptoms “most commonly associated with COVID-19” – fever and chills, cough or barking cough, shortness of breath, losing taste or smell, and nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

Children reporting any of those symptoms are to stay home, isolate and seek COVID-19 testing.

The screening tool also poses questions about possible COVID-19 exposures and vaccination. It further advises children who feel “sick or not well” to “please stay home,” and talk to a doctor if necessary.

A spokeswoman for the health minister confirmed that a runny nose, sore throat or difficulty swallowing, congested nose, headache, and extreme tiredness or muscle aches were removed from the screening.

Alexandra Hilkene said health units can give further advice on isolation requirements based on things like the local COVID-19 situation and whether an individual was in contact with a confirmed case.

Some symptoms were also removed for people over age 18 taking the questionnaire. Those include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, runny nose, sore throat, congestion, headache, stomach pain, pink eye and falling down often.

Children can also attend school if someone in their household started experiencing mild virus symptoms like a headache, fatigue, muscle aches within 48 hours of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Eric Thompson, who had to keep his three-year-old daughter home from daycare several times due to a runny nose, said he was glad to learn of the update to the screening list.

Thompson said his daughter would sometimes experience a runny nose within a few days of having just recovered from an earlier one, disrupting his job as he sought repeated COVID-19 tests in order to be able to send her back to daycare.

“The worst part is we’re 45 minutes to an hour away from a lot of the test centres to begin with,” Thompson said in an interview from Eganville, Ont., in Renfrew County. “It just wasn’t feasible.”

The province’s top doctor indicated earlier this month that the screening list for schools and daycares was to be narrowed after hearing from parents about disruption created by associated testing. He also said fewer cases were being found in those with mild symptoms.

“We did a lot of testing for very mild symptoms like runny nose and we found that we didn’t get a lot of positives at our population level,” Dr. Kieran Moore told an Aug. 3 news conference.

“The symptom list is smaller, so the requirement for testing should be fewer, and hopefully a percentage of tests that are positive would be higher, so less impact on families, less need to go get tested.”

Toronto Public Health, which covers the province’s largest school board, said it would follow the provincial screening tool and soon issue an update to its own screening materials for child care, day camps and schools.

Screening guidelines for Ontario schools have been revised several times during the pandemic.

Virus testing sites reported long lines when schools opened last fall with strict screening requirements as the province saw a rise in cases.

The latest change in screening guidelines comes days before the start of the new school year.

Ontario reported 694 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths from the virus on Monday. The province said 527 of the infected people are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status.

There were 160 patients in intensive care with COVID-related critical illness, including 93 patients on ventilators.