Toronto: The provincial government has released the Operational Guidance: Covid-19 Management in Schools document.
The guide was developed in consultation with public health experts, including Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and aims to help schools identify and isolate Covid-19 cases, reduce the spread of Covid-19 in schools, and prevent and minimize outbreaks, said a government statement.
In addition, Dr. Dirk Huyer, Executive Lead for Covid-19 Testing Approach at the Command Table and is the Chief Coroner for Ontario, will serve as Coordinator, Provincial Outbreak Response. Dr. Huyer will lead the province’s efforts to prevent and minimize Covid-19 outbreaks in a number of sectors, including education, child care, agriculture and health care sectors.
“Just as many schools have fire safety and emergency response plans, we have been working hand in hand with the medical experts to develop a plan that will allow schools to quickly and effectively find, isolate and contain a Covid-19 case or outbreak,” said Premier Doug Ford. “With medical experts helping to develop and support our plan, parents, teachers and educators can be confident every measure has been taken to put the health and safety of students and staff first.”
The guidance document will help school boards and school authorities consistently implement prevention measures, maintain accurate records of staff, students and visitors, work with their local public health units, and take appropriate action when staff, students, or visitors become ill during the school day. It includes detailed instructions for a variety of different scenarios. It also outlines recommendations for what parents should do to support their children.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said: “We have the resources in place ― from nursing to testing and enhanced screening and cleaning ― to help prevent the spread, coupled with a comprehensive plan to respond to any challenge immediately and decisively, under the leadership of Dr. Huyer.”
Key elements of the guidance document explain:
- The role of school boards and schools: keeping communities informed by creating a Covid-19 advisory section on both the board and school’s websites;
- The role of local public health units: leading case and contact tracing activities, declaring outbreaks and directing closure of classrooms or schools where necessary;
- The critical role of parents: screening their children every day before they go to school and keeping them home if they are ill;
- Appropriate steps to take when a student or staff member tests positive for Covid-19, including notifying the school community while respecting individual privacy; and
- Protocols to trigger various levels of public health responses or infection control measures. One case will trigger a public health response, two or more linked cases will trigger the declaration of an outbreak.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health is also issuing an additional public health guidance, Covid-19 Guidance: School Outbreak Management, for medical officers of health and public health units to support their efforts in investigating cases, outbreaks, and suspected outbreaks in school settings.
The new guidance includes the following:
- A protocol has been developed to deal with students who become ill while they are at school, including isolation, and providing personal protective equipment to the ill student and staff attending to them;
- A clear communications process will be followed, so parents will know if a student or staff member in a school tests positive for Covid-19;
- School boards will be required to work closely with public health units to communicate updates in real time and determine whether a class or school must be closed;
- Led by Ontario Public Health, the government intends to surveillance test asymptomatic secondary students in schools.
On top of hiring more public health nurses for schools, education staff will have completed rigourous professional development on health and safety.
As the Covid-19 outbreak continues to evolve, the guidance document will help support parents and schools as they continue to work together during these unprecedented times. The Minister of Education has issued a letter to parents to outline the shared responsibility to keep students safe and the key elements of the outbreak management protocol.
Additional funds for Ontario Back-to-School plan
The Ontario government’s back-to-school plan, is being further enhanced by additional federal investments and resources to support the return to class in the fall.
Yesterday’s federal announcement provides $381 million to Ontario, on top of the nearly $900 million provided by the province to support provincial back-to-school plans.
“Ontario’s investments lead the nation in supporting priorities like more cleaning, physical distancing, testing, and hiring of staff to ensure a safe reopening of our schools this September,” said Lecce.
The federal funding will support several priority provincial initiatives:
Reopening Plan Implementation – $200 million
- $100 million to complement the health and safety components of school reopening plans, in consultation with local public health units, including the hiring of custodians, HVAC, improvements, internet connectivity for students and other local needs.
- $30 million to support additional PPE for schools.
- $70 million for the temporary hiring of educators as required.
Student Transportation – $70 million
- $44.5 million in support of the Driver Retention Program (DRP).
- $25.5 million for route protection and to help reduce the number of students on buses.
Special Education and Mental Health Supports Enhancement – $12.5 million
- Will allow boards to hire and train additional staff and provide more mental health supports for students.
Additional Public Health Nurses – $12.5 million
- Supports up to 125 additional nursing positions in public health units across the province to help schools manage potential Covid-19 cases.
Remote Learning – $36 million
- Ensures that every school board offering virtual learning has a dedicated principal and administrative support for both its secondary and elementary virtual schools.
The province is also setting aside $50 million for any future pandemic learning needs, to ensure that Ontario is prepared for every scenario this Fall.
Pending federal approvals in December, the Ministry of Education will announce the second half of the payment later this year for the remainder of the school year.