Resources for schools and parents to support children and youth in school during COVID-19
Fraser Health has been working closely with school districts and Ministry partners to support students in 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.
More video Q&A's with Dr. Ingrid Tyler and Dr. Ariella Zbar
Get answers to several of your most common questions about returning to school during COVID-19.
Translated questions and answers
Questions and answers
What is the process for case and contact management for schools?
- Fraser Health receives lab results of all positive cases in our region. We directly contact each case to interview them for contact tracing. If the case is a student or a school staff member, we will ask additional questions about their time at school. If the case attended school during their infectious period, we will notify the school or school district immediately to discuss the exposure. The school community is then notified of the exposure.
- If the case is a student, we will interview both the student and their parent/guardian. If the student is a child, we will contact the parent/guardian first. If the student is an adolescent, we will contact the student first. If we cannot gather the necessary information from the parent/guardian or student to complete our risk assessment, we will ask the school for additional information.
- Privacy is maintained throughout the case and contact management process. Details of the exposure will not be shared with the school community. If there is an exposure at the school, staff and students can continue to attend school unless they are directly contacted by Fraser Health and do not have any new symptoms of illness.
- The timeline of the case and contact process varies due to the timing of when Fraser Health receives lab results, information gathering in order to complete the risk assessment, and volume. We are never certain when contact tracing is over because there could be new cases within the incubation period, which we will continue to monitor. We encourage everyone to continue to practice infection prevention and control measures, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, mask use, regular cleaning and monitoring for signs and symptoms of illness and being tested if needed.
When would someone be asked to self-isolate?
- If someone has been in close contact with a confirmed case, such as prolonged face-to-face contact, that person will be identified as a close contact because they are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Close contacts will be directly contacted by public health and will be asked to self-isolate. Only public health can determine who is a close contact.
- The close contact will self-isolate at home away from others and will monitor their symptoms during the isolation period. The isolation period is 14 days from the date of exposure. Public Health will provide isolation dates to the individual. If they develop symptoms, they will seek a COVID-19 test.
- Contact tracing will not be completed for close contacts. Contact tracing is only completed for cases.
- For schools and child care, public health will determine who is a close contact and is required to self-isolate. This is because schools have several measures in place and this information will be used in the case and contact management process for schools.
- If someone in the household is a close contact and is self-isolating, the rest of the household does not need to self-isolate. If someone in the household is a confirmed case, then the rest of the household will be directed to self-isolate.
Is a class or cohort still considered a “controlled environment” even though students intermingle with others, have siblings and play sports outside of school?
- Schools are a controlled environment with specific guidance and a number of people ensuring that guidance is implemented. This guidance aims to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in schools. Due to this guidance, schools are a relatively safe place, although there is no environment that is completely risk free.
- Students may interact with other students outside of their cohort by following public health guidance. School District and Independent School restart plans will include this information. There is also public health guidance for community settings and activities. We all have a responsibility in practicing infection prevention and control measures, such as hand hygiene, maintaining physical distance, wearing masks where required and staying home when sick.
What do I do if my child has symptoms of the common cold?
Your child should stay home if they have any new symptoms of illness. If your child has symptoms of common cold, such as runny nose or sore throat, they should stay home for 24 hours.
If symptoms improve, they can return back to school. If your child has a fever, or if after 24 hours symptoms remain unchanged or worsen, seek a health assessment by calling the Fraser Health Virtual Health team at 1-800-314-0999 between 10 AM and 10 PM seven days a week or 8-1-1 outside of these hours.
Key symptoms of COVID-19 to watch for are fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, loss of sense of smell or taste, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
What does it mean if my school receives an Early Exposure Letter from Fraser Health?
If you receive this letter, it means an individual at your school is confirmed to have COVID-19. This letter lets you know that we are aware of this and we are completing our case and contact management. It does not mean your child is at increased risk of COVID-19.
Please continue to attend school. If through our investigation we identify anyone who was directly exposed and are at increased risk of COVID-19, we will contact you directly soon after you receive the letter.
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.
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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