Resources for schools and parents to support children and youth with going back to school during COVID-19.
Fraser Health has been working closely with school districts and Ministry partners to support the return to school. We are aware that schools and parents have many questions about the guidelines and precautions put in place for the upcoming school year. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
Video Q&A with Medical Health Officer Dr. Ingrid Tyler
Get answers to several of your most common questions about returning to school during COVID-19.
How can I help prepare my child for a safe return to school?
An important part of successfully establishing COVID-19 safety measures in schools is that students adhere to them.
Parents are encouraged to have conversations with their children to reinforce how important it is to maintain COVID-19 measures.
We can all help prevent virus transmission in schools, workplaces, and in the community, by following these safety measures.
How can parents, teachers and school staff support returning to school?
Talk to children about how to practice COVID-19 safety measures, such as avoiding close contact and having good hand hygiene.
Make sure you keep your child home if they are even mildly ill.
What safety measures are being put in place to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in schools?
For specific details about your child’s school, please refer to your school district’s COVID-19 plan.
In general, schools throughout our region are implementing the following key measures:
- Increased cleaning and disinfection (supported by additional funding),
- Cohorts to reduce the number of in-person and close interactions,
- Physical distancing, staggered schedules, managed flow in school buildings, increased time outside,
- Increased hand hygiene, daily health checks, limited non-essential visitors,
- Non-medical masks in high-volume areas of the school building, and ensuring no one attends school when they are ill.
How will schools maintain physical distancing?
Physical distancing is an important measure to reduce COVID-19 transmission.
We encourage everyone to talk to students of all ages to reinforce ways in which they can maintain physical distance at school.
The schools are doing a lot to support distancing, such as cohorts, staggering timelines, separating spaces, staggering activities, and all of these help to support students to maintain distance, avoid crowding, and therefore reduce transmission risk.
Any distance that is not crowding will help reduce COVID-19 transmission.
Do students and staff need to stay exactly two metres (six feet) apart?
It may be challenging to keep students exactly two metres apart all the time. Two metres is an important guideline, but it may sometimes need to be flexible.
The point is to maintain a comfortable and safe distance from others, avoiding prolonged, crowded contact.
This may be more challenging in some classroom settings, or with some ages depending on the activity, however, careful measures are being taken to maintain cleaning and disinfection, increasing hand washing and staying home when sick.
What does ‘cohort’ mean for COVID-19 measures in the schools?
Cohorts reduce the number of people that a student or staff would be in regular contact with.
Cohorts are smaller in elementary and middle schools due to the recognition that younger children are less able to consistently implement personal measures such as hand hygiene, reducing physical contact and recognizing and articulating symptoms of illness.
How do cohorts help prevent transmission of COVID-19 in schools?
Cohorts keep students safer by making sure they only interact with the same limited group of people in the school setting. In a large school, students could potentially be in contact with a lot of people.
With cohorts, we are ensuring students interact with a much smaller number of people compared to usual scenario and cohorts support keeping individuals’ contacts small and predictable.
If we have an exposure in school, this will also help us ensure that it is quickly followed up, and allows instruction to continue for the most students involved.
What happens if there is a COVID-19 exposure in a school?
In the event of a confirmed COVID-19 exposure in a school:
- The school district, school and parents will be notified that an exposure occurred.
- The classroom, learning group or cohort may be asked to self-monitor for signs and symptoms.
- Close contacts will be identified by public health and asked to self-isolate
What do I do if I receive a notice that there has been an exposure at my child’s school?
The exposure notifications Fraser Health provides are very important in informing people they should be on high alert for following up on any new or different symptoms they are experiencing, even if mild.
If you get a notification through a school or other setting – the setting itself is safe – the exposure has passed but you need to be on alert for 14 days to minimize the risk of spreading the disease.
When would a child, teacher or school staff member be required to self-isolate (i.e. not come to school)?
Students or staff may be told not to go to school (i.e. asked to self-isolate) if Public Health determines through case and contact investigation, and risk assessment, that the individual was at higher risk of exposure.
In these cases, people will be asked to stay home and self-isolate in the event they get sick.
Why are masks not mandatory for all students, teachers and school staff?
Masks are one of the tools we have to reduce COVID-19 transmission.
Masks are appropriate in certain situations and may be recommended when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
All of the measures including physical distancing, hand washing and staying home when sick, work together to reduce probability of COVID-19 transmission.
Because of the nature of masks (reusing them, touching them, taking them on and off, having them become saturated, laying them down and putting back on), they are one of the things we do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but not a mandatory measure.
What safety measures are in place for activities outside of school hours?
It is understood that kids will be doing other activities outside of school including extra-curricular and leisure activities.
In the context of these activities, remember to use your “COVID sense” to maintain familiar faces, know who you are in contact with, wash your hands, stay home when sick, and then we can all return to a new normal together by reducing the transmission of COVID-19.
What is the importance of maintaining “familiar faces” and how does it help prevent transmission of COVID-19?
We have been asking people to stick to “familiar faces." This is related to the cohort approach in schools.
If a student sees 60 people (the size of an elementary school cohort) throughout the school week (Monday-Friday), and someone in that group gets sick, then only 60 people have been exposed, along with some risk of secondary transmission to people around those 60.
If we were in a situation, however, where that student didn’t cohort, and saw 60 different people each day of the week, they may have potentially exposed 300 people, along with secondary contacts of the 300 people.
When we ask people to keep their groups to ‘familiar faces’, we are therefore preventing transmission of COVID-19 in the community by keeping social circles smaller.
How will the return to school impact community transmission?
Children can get COVID-19 and experience symptoms, but they are not the primary drivers of this epidemic.
Keeping transmission low in the community relies on maintaining small, familiar groups; avoiding close contact outside the household; washing hands frequently and self-isolating at the first sign of any COVID compatible symptoms.
If my child has been potentially exposed to COVID-19, do they need to stay home from school?
In many cases, Public Health will not advise people to self-isolate because the risk of exposure is relatively low.
In those situations, Public Health will notify people by letter to watch for signs and symptoms, which means being on high alert for new or unusual symptoms and to isolate and seek advice on testing if you feel you have developed symptoms.
What if someone in a student’s household has COVID-19. Can the child still go to school?
If someone in a household is sick with a confirmed case of COVID-19, then Public Health will advise the entire household to stay home and self-isolate.
Individuals in that household should not go to school or work until advised by Public Health that it is safe to do so.
What do parents need to do if they think their child has potentially exposed others to COVID-19?
Public Health gets the report of all of COVID-19 cases, follows up with each individually, determines the exposure and risk of transmission, and provides the advice they need. You do not need to contact anybody until Public Health reaches you.
If you choose to let friends and family know there may have been an exposure, please reassure them that Public Health will be providing them advice soon.
Why are masks not mandatory for everyone working in or attending schools?
The Ministry of Education has also made masks mandatory in areas like hallways and on school buses for middle and high schools.
Wearing a mask is just one layer of protection and does not replace limiting your contacts, hand washing or staying home when sick.
Will I know if my child has been exposed to COVID-19?
Public Health will notify the school and parents if we learn there has been an exposure at the school.
What do I do if there is a sick child in my child’s class?
If you hear there is a sick child in the classroom, there could be a number of reasons why that child is sick.
The school protocols clearly state if there are any symptoms while at school, then that person needs to get assessed.
If there is a positive COVID-19 test, Public Health will ensure all contacts exposed to that case, know about that exposure and are told what to do next.
What if my child is sick? Who do I notify?
If your child is having any symptoms that could be compatible with COVID-19, please keep your child home from school and follow the guidelines for further assessment.
You do not need to notify those who you think your child may have been in contact with. If it turns it out that your child is diagnosed with COVID-19, Public Health will be following up with you to determine exposures and next steps, including whether to notify the school.
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