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Answers to questions about COVID-19 in Ontario schools

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health was outspoken when speaking to parents across the province, who for weeks have been on the back-to-school roller coaster – preparing first to send their kids in class amid a wave of COVID-19, then switching to online learning as schools closed, and now gearing up for a return to in-person learning.

“I understand that sending your children back to school on Monday will be worrying for many,” Dr Kieran Moore said at a press conference alongside Education Minister Stephen Lecce, held ahead of schools reopening in the across the province on Jan. 17.

Parents in Ontario are worried, yes – and confused, exhausted and mired in ever-changing rules and updates, judging by the more than 130 questions they sent to The Star this week (including many we’re still trying to answer. Stay tuned.)

At Wednesday’s press conference, Lecce provided the latest information on the province’s plan to do “everything humanly possible to protect our schools”. This includes providing rapid antigen testing to students and staff in schools and daycares, and distributing masks to school boards – N95 respirator masks for staff, three-layer masks for students.

Some burning questions were addressed by Lecce and Moore, as the Star searched for the latest information available to others. Below is a compilation of questions from parents and guardians, answered.

I am concerned about the immunity of students at seven months of a second dose of vaccine, unmasked breakfasts, poor filtration, no testing, and cohorts dropped when numbers permit. Is there a movement to approve boosters for kids over 12?

The Department of Health says the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have so far only been authorized by Health Canada as a booster dose after completion of the primary series in people over 18 years of age. “We will continue to review the evidence and take action as necessary to further protect our children and our schools,” the ministry told The Star in an email response.

Will COVID-19 vaccines be mandatory?

No. Dr Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, told Wednesday’s press conference that because the vaccine is “new” the government wants “more experience with it before making it mandatory.” . (Over 9.5 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered worldwide and serious side effects are rare). Some schools will offer vaccination clinics, but parental consent will be required.

What exactly has been implemented in schools over the past two weeks to make them safer for students?

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be provided to students and staff in Ontario schools. N95 masks, widely considered the best option to protect against COVID-19, are being distributed to staff. Students will receive a three-ply mask, three million of which have already been shipped to schools across Ontario, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said.

Two rapid antigenic tests will be distributed to each student to allow parents to watch for possible cases. The rapid tests will replace a previous program that included take-out PCR tests provided to symptomatic staff and students.

At the same time, the minister said an additional 3,000 HEPA units had been provided to schools, building on the 70,000 HEPA systems already installed in schools. Likewise, improvements have been made to ventilation in schools, while schools that do not have mechanical ventilation have received HEPA filters, Lecce said.

Stricter screening protocols will be put in place upon leaving school.

How will school boards collect information on positive cases in class? How many cases will trigger a class or school closure?

Directors will monitor absences and notify public health units when they reach 30%, which Moore says will represent an increase in the spread in the community. This will encourage public health to inform families of the increase in absences. However, absences tracked will not be specific to COVID and will include students absent for any reason. Public health units will communicate guidance based on the local situation.

Asked about schools asking parents to volunteer to be emergency replacements in schools when there is a shortage of emergency personnel, Lecce said that a “list of emergency personnel supplies” has always existed in school boards across the province, and sometimes these lists include family members.

How do you switch to home schooling if online learning is not available?

Parents hoping to switch to home schooling will need to check their region’s specific requirements before continuing.

In general, parents should notify their school board of their intention to teach at home and provide the student’s name, date of birth, and relevant contact information, such as home address or phone number. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB), for example, requires that the letter be submitted to the superintendent in your area.

How did the province set the 30 percent number of absences as a threshold for reporting cases to families?

The province announced that families will now only be notified when absences from their schools reach 30 percent – a significant departure from previous waves, when parents were told of a single case in their class. child.

Asked Wednesday how they settled into that number, Moore said the absentee rate had been a threshold for other viruses for years, indicating “increased activity in the community” that should be communicated to families .

“Based on our previous experience, this number has worked well for us,” Moore said.

A community clinic run by the Michael Garron Hospital distributes PCR tests that people can bring to them for testing. Children can also have their mouth and cheeks swabbed instead. This has been very helpful to me as I have a child with special needs who becomes very anxious during COVID testing. If PCRs are the most accurate mode of testing, why are they not more accessible to students / schools?

PCR tests are reserved for high-risk environments, such as long-term care and hospitals, according to the government. That said, some school-based PCR tests distributed when the Delta variant was dominant are still available for students who become symptomatic at school, but the province is now “moving” to the use of rapid antigen tests for them. primary and primary school students. Rapid tests will be available in high schools on an “as needed” basis. Dr Moore also said rapid antigenic testing is now of more value.

“Omicron is more transmissible but less virulent as a disease,” Moore said. “And we have changed our protocols accordingly. Empowerment capacity (of parents) is about taking the (rapid) tests in your home. If your child is testing symptoms compatible with COVID-19, you have rapid antigenic tests, you have a response very quickly that allows the parent to make the decision to keep their child at home. “

I have three sons, all of whom have been vaccinated twice, but my daughter is only four years old. How to protect it? Will keeping his house do any good if the boys go to school?

This scenario was not directly addressed at Wednesday’s provincial press conference, however, the province assured faster antigen testing is coming. Although they do not offer protection, the results provide answers among so many questions.

What is the difference in risk of transmission in an environment where more than 25 elementary students eat lunch in a classroom compared to people eating in restaurants and bars, the latter being closed for in-person meals due to the risk of to catch and spread the Omicron variant?

Again, not directly addressed at Wednesday’s press conference, but the province has emphasized student mental health and in-person learning as priorities.

“Although the risk of transmission in schools can never be eliminated, it can be reduced or mitigated through public health measures, including improved vaccination, better masking, ventilation, cohort and staying at. home in case of illness, ”Moore said.

Jenna Moon is a breaking reporter for The Star and is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and law enforcement for The Star. Contact her by email at or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis