Q: What are some of the things I can do to keep my kids safe at school?
A: Most parents right now, including myself, are thinking about sending their kids back and what they need to do. With the school environment, it’s pretty much what we do for the healthcare system. It’s using the same principles. One is screening is really important. So anyone who is sick – staff, student, volunteer – you have to stay home. Any type of symptoms, you stay home. Depending on the specific situation determines how long you have to stay home, but we don’t want anyone with any type of infectious disease symptom to be in the school. This is a little different from what we’re used to. I think we’ve all in the past sent kids to school if they have a runny nose, but they’re feeling otherwise well. That’s changed to a different standard for all of us.
Parents and children are expected to screen themselves before entering the school. Another thing to teach your children about is physical distancing. That’s generally challenging for children, so you may need to explain what it means, give them a sense of the actual distance. Maybe help them practice that with other people you might know. Masking is going to be required for Grade 4 to Grade 12 and made optional for Grade 3 and under. To support your child, you may want to allow them to chose a mask that they’re comfortable with, find a good-fitting mask, let them practice using it for long periods of time. They will probably have to use it for an entire class session, particularly high school students. And the other prevention measures, like hand hygiene, sneezing into your sleeve or sneezing into a tissue and discarding it appropriately. Those are other things you might want to practice with your child, particularly if they are a younger child. And you might want to explain to them what might happen if they develop symptoms in school. If your kid gets sick in school then they will need to be isolated. I know that sounds scary – that’s more of a technical term. But essentially they would be placed into a separate room so they don’t infect any other kids. This would be done relatively quickly, and that room would have a person to supervise, because they can’t be left unsupervised, depending on their age. The person providing supervision will likely need to use face shield and mask, and potentially gown and gloves, depending on the situation. So you might want to prepare your child that that’s what’s going to happen to them, and to not be afraid. This is just a way of protecting other people. This is still their teachers, who they trust and they spend time with, it’s just now the teacher has to wear a special materials to protect themselves. Generally, teachers will be wearing face masks in school, and that’s a good thing to warn your kid about.
For kids going on the school bus, you’ll need to outline to them that they’ll be assigned a seat, that they need to stay in that seat, that they can’t be moving around the bus and it may take a little bit longer with the bus, because they have to make sure and take down their name and figure out where they’e sitting, and that they might have to sit with a sibling instead of a friend.
Q: There was social distancing before masks, and masks if social distancing was not possible. Why now both?
A: This is a new virus and the evidence is changing around it. The evidence has become more clear with respect to non-medical masks. What recent studies have shown out of a number of other countries is that there does appear to be some benefit at a population level, of reducing the transmission of COVID-19, if a large proportion of the population uses some type of face covering when they are out in the public. For me, it is primarily an evidence-driven policy. Other reasons we though now would be a good time is we know there might be the potential of a wave two. We know that in the winter season, respiratory illnesses tend to get worse, and we know that as it gets colder, people are going to be indoors more. Right now, we are at Stage 3 and we want to stay at Stage 3. I think none of us wants to return to the situation where our schools were closed, our businesses were closed. So now we felt was a good time to implement the policy. People have an opportunity to get used to it, and then it becomes the new norm as we face a more challenging season in the fall.
Q: Will kids be six feet apart in classrooms?
A: The social distancing is something that definitely will be a part of the prevention measures for children. Whether it’s going to be exactly six feet apart, that’s up to the school board. Six feet has not been put into the provincial guideline. They are outlining the importance of physical distancing. What we do know is six feet or two metres apart is considered the standard for the healthcare service sector. It depends on a number of scenarios. One metre is also beneficial in reducing the transmission of COVID-19. We also know that once you’re outdoors, that also adds to that idea of distance, so that two metres becomes less of the standard when you’re outdoors. It does depend on the setup of the school and setup in the classroom. One metre distance provides benefits. Two metres provides more benefit. But that one metre is where you get the most benefit from separating from other kids.
Q: When going into number a number of businesses, do you need to put on a fresh mask for each establishment?
A: I would say no. If you as an individual have a mask on, you will need to replace it if it gets soiled or dirty or if it gets very wet, you would want to replace it. But if you’re not touching it and its not gotten dirty, then you can continue to use if as you move from establishment to establishment.
Q: If a child has a mild cough or sneeze, as children often do catch the common cold in the fall or winter season, will those kids be isolated or sent home?
A: That’s one of the challenges of COVID-19, is that the symptoms are so similar to so many other viral illnesses, or just other illnesses in general. Straightforward, the answer is yes. If a child has developed symptoms while they’re in the school, they will be isolated and their parents called and asked to bring them home. The same if the child develops symptoms at home, the child should not be sent to school. In such a situation, depending on the child and the symptoms and the history, testing may be indicated. If the child tests negative, they can go back to school 24 hours after being symptom free. If they are positive, they need to stay isolated for 14 days.
Q: What are COVID tests like for children and how long does it typically take to get results back?
A: The COVID test is a swab. It’s inserted into the nose. There are different types of swabs. Some don’t go as far back, but you might have to do both sides of the nose. It’s very much dependant on the healthcare provider that’s doing the test, how they do it, and whether they do both sides,and it depends on the swab, how far it’s inserted. There are other potential swab types that could be used, particularly for children, or children who find it challenging to do that particular test. There might be other tests that the healthcare provider attempts to use, but they are less sensitive.
How long it takes to get results back depends on where you are in the region. It can take on average, 5-7 days, but some results are taking as long as 10 days to get back.
Why aren’t physicians or nurses telling people to self-isolate following a COVID test when a patient presents with symptoms?
If someone has symptoms, they should be self-isolating. At assessment centres, they provide a written documentation, outlining that. There may be scenarios where people where people don’t need to isolate, but generally, if you have symptoms you should be isolating until you get the results. At one point, it used to be that if you had a COVID test, you had to isolate, but we’re no longer necessarily feeling that’s true, because 1, we’ve had such a low number of cases in our catchment area. And 2 – sometimes people are getting tested for workplace surveillance reasons, or out of interest or because their workplace requires it, and they’ve not been exposed in any way. They’ve not come in contact with a case, they’ve not been part of an outbreak, they have no symptoms, but their workplace may be requesting it, in which case, those individuals don’t need to self-isolate. It’s just some random testing occurring int eh community.
Q: Have you heard information about flu shots generating a positive COVID test?
A: I’ve never heard of such a thing. It doesn’t really make sense to me. If you’re asking about a false positive, where someone doesn’t have COVID-19, but has a positive test, in discussion with the lab that’s highly unlikely. If you have a positive test, it is likely that you have or had COVID-19.
Q: Worst case scenario, we have COVID-19 in the schools, what will the health Unit do about that?
A: A COVID case in the schools, we would manage the same as we would for lots of other infectious diseases,or any other COVID case. We would be following up with that case, trying to determine where that person could have gotten COVID-19 from, and also trying to figure out who they could have come into contact with that they could have spread the virus to. We’re looking specifically when they were infectious, who they came into contact with. Of those individuals, we then determine which ones had significant contact. Because if you’re just passing someone quickly down a hallway, and you’re not interacting with that individual, that’s not a significant contact. But if you’re spending more than 15 minutes with someone, within a two metre distance, that would be considered a significant contact. So we would be connecting with all the significant contacts that person had contact with, and asking those individuals to either self monitor or self isolate. In a school, we would be working closely with the school to see if there were any other cases that might be occurring, to see if there might be transmission happening. We would probably be looking to find at least the kids in the same class, so there’s a heightened awareness, at bare minimum. Perhaps you might be asking them to self-isolate. And then following up on both the cases and contacts to make sure they are isolating appropriately and if any of the contacts were to develop symptoms, then they’re to be followed up for testing.