Ensuring a safe return to school for Toronto children

The City of Toronto is encouraging families to follow safe practices to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 now that children are returning to school. Whether or not children are attending school in person this year, residents are reminded that in order for schools to operate safely, everyone needs to do their part in helping to reduce the spread of the virus.

Over the summer, Toronto Public Health (TPH) has been working closely with local school boards to help them develop plans for a safer reopening. These plans include best practices on public health measures that are effective to reduce the spread of COVID-19

Based on TPH's guidance and protocols from the Ministry of Education, informed by Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, several new measures have been put in place this year to help keep children and staff safer at school. More than 200 City staff members have been assigned to support schools, students and their families. In addition, a school liaison team will provide advice on infection prevention and control (IPAC) measures, train staff and will work with investigators should any cases of COVID-19 occur at a school.

Along with these teams, there will be dedicated case and contact investigators assigned to schools. This will allow for timely investigation of any cases related to a school, expedited contact tracing measures and quick and appropriate action to be taken at the school.

A new protocol has been implemented by TPH should there be a confirmed case of COVID-19 at a school. TPH will send parents a letter through the school principal if there is a positive case at the school. Next, investigators will work with the person who tested positive to find out how they may have gotten the infection and who they may have passed it on to. This may include investigation of who they were in close contact with at school while they were contagious. All of the students or educators in the same class or group as the person who tested positive for COVID-19 will likely be required to self-isolate at home for 14 days, monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and get tested if they experience any symptoms or are asked by TPH.

Families will be monitored and supported throughout this process and will be advised when it is safe for students to return to school. Other students in the school who have not come in contact with any person who has tested positive for COVID-19 can continue attending school but should monitor for symptoms. Parents and caregivers with children enrolled in school will be provided with a letter in the coming days through their school board, which will outline this information in more detail.

Although numerous measures have been put in place at schools to keep staff, children, and their families safer, the most important safety measures begin at home. Parents and caregivers need to keep children at home if they are not feeling well or if they have come into contact with anyone who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. Families are encouraged to contact their healthcare providers, Telehealth Ontario or TPH for more information.

If anyone suspects that they or a family member has symptoms of COVID-19, they should be tested at an Assessment Centre. For more information, visit: https://www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-what-you-should-do/covid-19-have-symptoms-or-been-exposed/covid-19-assessment-centres/.  Parents and caregivers are also encouraged to ensure that children's vaccinations are up-to-date, including this year's flu vaccine, when available in the Fall.

There has been a steady increase in new COVID-19 infections in Toronto since September 4. TPH anticipates that the cases of the virus will increase as children return to school and people spend more time indoors. Whether or not someone has a child in school this year, all Toronto residents have a part to play in keeping everyone safer as we live with this virus: continue washing your hands; keep at least six feet away from others, even outdoors; and wear a mask whenever possible to help reduce the spread of the virus.

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“Our number one goal – and I believe the goal of everyone when it comes to back to school - is to keep our children as safe as possible when they are at school. The City, through Toronto Public Health, will provide as much support as possible to our schools because we know that a safe reopening of schools is so important to the restart and recovery of our city and most important, the overall well-being of our young people."

- Toronto Mayor John Tory

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