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COVID-19 and Schools/Child Care

Letter to Parents re: Potential Increase in COVID-19 Transmission in the Community and at School

Augmentation potentielle de transmission de la COVID-19 à l’école et dans la communauté

For questions relating to COVID-19, including testing and isolation guidance for close contacts, those with symptoms or positive tests, call the Provincial Testing and Isolation Information line at 1-888-777-0730, open 7 days a week from 8:00am-6:00pm.

Child care staff, School boards, schools and parents should visit this website regularly as information and resources related to COVID-19 are updated frequently. On this page you will find information on the following topics:

  • COVID-19 Screening
  • COVID-19 Testing for Children, Students and Staff
  • For Children, Students and Staff presumed to have COVID-19 or have tested positive on a COVID-19 test
  • For Children, Students and Staff Exposed to COVID-19
  • Reporting and Monitoring of COVID-19
  • Infection Prevention and Control
  • Vaccination
  • Additional Resources

COVID-19 Screening

COVID-19 Testing for Children, Students and Staff

  • PCR self-collection kits are available at schools (while supplies last) for use when students or staff exhibit symptoms at school.
  • Rapid Antigen Test (RATs) may be available to children, students and staff in schools and child care settings who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
    • If children/students/staff test positive on a RAT, the test result does NOT have to be confirmed with a PCR test. Follow the flowchart for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Parents do NOT need to report a positive RAT test to the school or child care setting.
    • If you test negative on two consecutive RATs, separated by 24-48 hours, are both negative, the symptomatic individual is less likely to have COVID-19 infection, and the individual is advised to self-isolate until symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours if gastrointestinal symptoms are present).
  • If a symptomatic individual is not tested (they choose not to, or don’t have a test available), presume they are positive and isolate immediately and follow the flowchart for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Testing Fact Sheet for School
  • Testing Fact Sheet for Child Care Setting

There are 3 different varieties of rapid antigen tests that are being distributed by the province. Please see the links below for instructions on how to use each variety:

  1. BTXN Rapid Response™
  2. SD Biosensor
  3. Trimedic FaStep®

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table has updated the recommendations for how to complete an oral/nasal swab used for rapid antigen testing. This is an optional swabbing approach. Directions on how to collect a sample can be found here.

You may also reference this how-to video for a nasal swab.

Positive test results do not need to be reported to the public health unit, or to the school. The person who tests positive, should follow the guidance in this flowchart for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Even if they are not experiencing symptoms, they must isolate for the appropriate amount of time.

  • For at least 5 days (if fully vaccinated or under 12 years old) or 10 days (if not fully vaccinated or immunocompromised)
  • Household members that do not meet the below criteria must self-isolate for the same amount of time that the person who tested positive is self-isolating. If any of the following apply to your household members, they do not need to isolate:
    • They have previously tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days,
    • They are 18+ and boosted
    • They are under 18 years old and are fully vaccinated
  • They should only return to school/childcare once the isolation time is complete, there is no fever and symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (48 hours for gastrointestinal symptoms) and they pass the school screening tool. Report your child’s absence as you would normally.
  • For days 6–10 – if no longer isolating, it is still required to wear a mask outside the home, avoid activities that require mask removal in public (for example, playing a wind instrument in music class or playing high-contact sports), and avoid visiting high risk settings or anyone vulnerable. *Distancing is encouraged when masks are removed to eat in a school or child care setting.
  • Testing Fact Sheet for School
  • Testing Fact Sheet for Child Care Setting

School or childcare children or staff are not eligible for PCR testing at COVID-19 Assessment Centres or pharmacies. Students or staff in school may have access to self-collection PCR tests (while supplies last). Both schools and childcare centres may have access to rapid antigen tests (RATs). These tests should only be used when experiencing symptoms of COVID. For guidance on this testing, including next steps – see these resources:

These must be dropped off at a participating pharmacy or one of the participating assessment centres (Almonte, Brockville or Kemptville). To find a pharmacy drop off location in your area, please visit COVID-19 testing locations (ontario.ca)

Please call the pharmacy ahead of time to obtain any special instructions (e.g. stay in car and call when you arrive).

For Children, Students and Staff presumed to have COVID-19 or have tested positive on a COVID-19 test

Children who isolated based on symptoms (assumed COVID-19) or because of a positive COVID-19 test, can return to school/childcare once the isolation time is complete, there is no fever, symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (48 hours for gastrointestinal symptoms) and they pass the school screening tool. Isolation time is based on age and vaccination status. See this flowchart for guidance on isolation time.

A negative test result is not needed to return to school or childcare once isolation is complete.

For days 6–10 – if no longer isolating, it is still required to wear a mask outside the home, avoid activities that require mask removal in public (for example, playing a wind instrument in music class or playing high-contact sports), and avoid visiting high risk settings or anyone vulnerable. *Distancing is encouraged when masks are removed to eat in a school or child care setting.

When calculating isolation time – the day symptoms began or a positive test was taken is day ZERO (whichever occurred first). Count up from there to 5 or 10 days based on age, health (immune-compromised) and vaccination status.

For example – if you began to experience symptoms on the tenth, and took a rapid test on the eleventh, you would begin counting on the tenth as day zero. Isolation would end on the fifteenth at midnight for a 5 day isolation, or on the twentieth for a 10 day period.

Self-isolation means to stay home and away from others. All household members (anyone who lives with you) will need to isolate for the same time period as the person with symptoms or a positive test result. Isolation must be followed for the prescribed time even if symptoms resolve before then. If symptoms are not improving, the household must continue to isolate until they do.

They should follow the direction for symptomatic people (Flowchart guidance for people experiencing symptoms of COVID-19). The initial household member with symptoms (or a positive test) does not need to extend their isolation period, but any other household members may still need to continue to isolate as long as the symptomatic person depending on their vaccination status.

For Children, Students and Staff Exposed to COVID-19

  • If exposed to COVID-19 in your household, follow the guidance in the this flowchart to see if you need to isolate (based on vaccination status and age): You’ve been exposed. Now what?
    • Note: If additional household members develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should follow isolation directions for symptomatic individuals. The initial household member(s) with symptoms of COVID-19 do not have to extend their self-isolation period based on other household members becoming ill.
    • All household members – even if not isolating – must wear a mask outside the home, avoid activities that require mask removal in public (like dining out or high contact sports), and avoid visiting high risk settings or anyone vulnerable for 10 full days from the date of their exposure. *Distancing is encouraged when masks are removed to eat in a school or child care setting.
  • If exposed to COVID-19 in the community (identified as a close contact by an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 or has COVID-19 symptoms) you do not need to isolate if you are not experiencing symptoms yourself. You must however, still do the following:
    • Self-monitor for symptoms for 10 full days from the date of your exposure
    • Wear a well-fitted mask outside the home, avoid activities that require mask removal in public (like dining out or high contact sports), and avoid visiting high risk settings or anyone vulnerable for 10 full days from the date of their exposure. *Distancing is encouraged when masks are removed to eat in a school or child care setting.
    • If you begin to experience symptoms, follow the guidance in the tabs above.

Reporting and Monitoring of COVID-19

  • Parents/caregivers will NOT receive a letter from Public Health to advise them of a case of COVID-19 at that school or child care. Public health will no longer be dismissing cohorts at schools or child care.
  • Schools and Licensed Child Care Centres will report high absenteeism rates (e.g., 30% above their baseline) to the Health Unit using the absenteeism reporting tool. A notification letter to parents, caregivers, and staff will be sent from the Health Unit with information on public health measures to follow.
  • Schools will report student and staff absences to the Ministry of Education, daily through the Absence Reporting Tool (ART). You can find information about COVID-19 school closures and absenteeism at: COVID-19: school closures and absenteeism | ontario.ca. Please contact your child’s school if you have any questions about school or cohort closures.
  • Child care centres will report closures. You can find information about this at: COVID-19: child care centre closures | ontario.ca

Previously used case and contact management doesn’t have the same value in a school setting with the high transmissibility of Omicron. This means we need to rely more on other public health measures. Exposures in a school setting are generally not considered high risk because of the layers of public health precautions that are in place (such as daily screenings, masks, improved ventilation, cohorting, and distancing as possible). Not dismissing entire cohorts will help more students to get the benefits of in-person learning.

Continue to report absences as you would usually. You are not required to report your child’s test results or symptoms to the school or child care centre as part of absence reporting.

School boards report all absences to the Ministry of Education, including absences not related to COVID-19 (such as religious holidays or medical appointments). If this absenteeism rate is 30% above baseline – schools will report this to Public Health (note this is 30% above baseline and not a 30% threshold). Public Health will consult with the school to assess any contributing factors and see if extra action needs to be taken. You may receive a notification letter to inform you of additional public health measures to follow.

*Please note that if school absence rates are explained by other factors (eg: transportation related) further investigation by public health is not needed.

You can find information about COVID-19 school closures and absenteeism here.

Any dismissals or closures of a school or child care will be contingent on operational requirements determined by the school board, school and/or child care operator. If you have questions about a dismissal or closure – please contact the school or childcare centre directly.

Infection Prevention and Control

The layers of public health precautions continue to be the best way to prevent spread of COVID-19 in schools and childcare. These include:

  • Completing the school/child care screening tool daily (this is updated regularly so be sure to access the latest version)
  • Wearing a well-fitted good quality mask consistently (see our mask page for more details)
  • Get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible and ensure other household members and regular contacts are also vaccinated
  • Limiting the number of unprotected contacts that your children and household have
    • This really helps to keep schools open while COVID-19 is still a threat in our communities
  • Be prepared to transition to remote learning if your child or household needs to isolate
  • Be prepared to pick up your child from school or childcare if they show symptoms during the day

Starting March 21, 2022, wearing a mask in schools, school board offices and on student transportation is a personal choice except for a few situations where masks continue to be required. Masking is highly recommended when community spread of COVID-19 is high. Please be kind to those who choose to continue wearing a mask. Some individuals continue to be at-risk of serious illness. Respect the risk tolerance and masking decisions of others.

The following are situations where masks continue to be required in schools:

  • If the individual becomes symptomatic while at school, the school will provide a medical grade mask to wear while isolating and awaiting pick-up.
  • Children under 12 years old who are unvaccinated and exempt from quarantine (e.g. travelled with vaccinated companions) need to mask for 14 days after arriving in Canada.
  • Anyone who is a close contact of someone with COVID-19 who is not required to isolate – must still wear a well-fitted mask in all public settings for 10 days from the day of exposure (while self-monitoring for symptoms).
  • Those with COVID-19 who are only required to isolate for 5 days must wear a well-fitted mask in all public settings (indoors and outdoors) for days 6 to 10 of their infection (or day 20 for immune-compromised individuals).

Schools can supply good quality, 3-ply, cloth masks to students who need them. Staff have access to medical masks (i.e. surgical or procedural) and non-fit tested N95 style respirator (provided by school board or child care centre). For more details on masks visit our Face Coverings/Masks section.

For Schools

For Child Care Settings

Vaccination

If you have additional questions about what the school environment will look like, please refer to your child’s school board re-entry plan.

Additional Resources