• Race to a Cure Authors

COVID Cases in Schools

In early September, millions of students across Canada prepared to return to in-person classes in the new school year. After an unprecedented shutdown in March, the frantic shift to online learning, and the summer of lock-down, many elementary and secondary schools welcomed their students back either full-time or part-time. Over the past month, however, Canada has experienced an alarming increase in cases amid the second wave. 


According to the Government of Ontario, there has been a cumulative total of 2,628 school-related cases reported as of September 5, 2020. Currently, there are 582 Ontario schools with a reported case of the virus. For more information on cases in schools and child-care centres across Ontario, visit the Government of Ontario website.


If your school has reported a COVID case, it is common to feel worried or scared. You may feel uninformed about the situation, unaware of what to expect, and concerned for the health and safety of yourself, your friends, and family members. This article will provide an overview of COVID cases in schools, including how schools will respond, what actions schools will take, what to expect, and more information to help you decide on the best response for you as a student.

In each region or city, the process following a reported case may vary. Schools will work with the local health unit to determine the next steps. For details on your school's plan, visit your school or school board's website, or contact your local health unit. The following sections will provide the general procedure outlined by the Ontario Government.


Contact tracing


Contact tracing is a necessary procedure to help contain the spread of COVID-19. By identifying individuals that have been exposed to the virus and informing them to self-isolate and seek testing immediately, the risk of further transmission will be significantly reduced. In a school-related case, Public Health will consult to identify individuals that have been in close contact with the person who has tested positive, including students within the same class, cohort, school bus, etc. and advising them to quarantine for at least 14 days.

How is the Community Notified?


When a school is made aware of a positive case among students or staff members, they are responsible for notifying the local public health unit and the Ministry of Education. To inform the community of a confirmed case, both the school and school board websites will publicly post this information. Individuals will not be named to ensure privacy. Schools may also directly inform students, staff, and parents through email or phone calls.


Outbreaks and Closures


If an infected individual has occupied a school during their infectious period, schools may require short-term closures. Said closures would allow the school and health officials to ensure thorough disinfecting of the building, complete contact tracing, and determine the next steps with all students and staff's safety in mind.


Class or school closures may also result if an outbreak occurs. Public Health units will declare an outbreak within a school if any of the following criteria are true:


  • Within 14 days, there are two or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students, staff or other visitors with an epidemiological link (for example, if cases are in the same class or cohort)

  • At least one case could have been infected in the school (including on a school bus or in before or after school care)

— Government of Ontario


Other actions schools may take include reduced programming and school events, implementing stricter precautions, increasing cleaning and disinfecting frequency, etc.


Next steps for Students

If you are a student experiencing a confirmed COVID case in your school, you may be uncertain of what to do next. Here are some tips to help you navigate this difficult time and essential items to keep in mind!


  • If you ever feel sick or experience any symptoms of COVID-19, do not go to school. It is highly encouraged that you complete an online self-screening each day before attending school. You can access the COVID-19 school and child care screening from the Government of Ontario here. Regardless of tests, quizzes, or assignments, do not attend school if you are feeling sick. Your teachers will understand and do their best to accommodate your situation. 

  • Continue following all COVID-19 precautions and guidelines in place by your school and/or local health authorities, including wearing a mask at all times, maintaining excellent hand hygiene, physical distancing where possible, and avoiding congregation in hallways, washrooms, cafeteria, parking lots, etc.

  • Have a conversation with your parents and/or guardians to discuss the current situation and your next steps. You may consider participating in virtual learning or hybrid learning, which are lower-risk. Ultimately, the decision is for you and your family to decide, focusing on the safest option.

  • Stay updated on case numbers within your school. It is always a good idea to be informed of your surrounding environment's risks to help you make safe decisions regarding your next course of action. Consider signing up for your school's mailing list for news notifications, frequently check their website, or visit the Government of Ontario website for updated case numbers and identified schools/school boards that have reported a case or outbreak of COVID-19.


Conclusion


As students across Canada adapt to new learning methods and experience school's everyday stress once again, we must keep our health—both physical and mental—a priority. If you require support during this difficult time, reach out to family members, friends, teachers, counsellors, or health professionals for guidance. The Ministry of Education and Public Health officials are working hard to support schools and their students and staff. In return, we also must do each of our roles in keeping our school communities safe.


References


Ontario Government. (2020). COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres. Retrieved

November 9, 2020, from https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-cases-schools-and-child-

care-centres

CDC. (n.d.). Operating schools during COVID-19: CDC's Considerations. Retrieved October

29, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-

childcare/schools.html

CBC News. (2020, September 2). Here's what happens when there are COVID-19 cases in

Ontario schools. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/covid19-case-

school-ontario-student-teacher-plan-1.5706191


Featured image courtesy of Wix



Article Author: Victoria Huang

Article Editors: Edie Whittington, Maria Giroux