Dr. Ingrid Tyler, Executive Medical Director and Medical Health Officer and Dr. Ariella Zbar, Medical Health Officer from Fraser Health, answer common questions from schools and parents around returning to school during COVID-19.

  • Questions and answers with Dr. Ariella Zbar and Surrey Schools Superintendent Jordan Tinney

    Punjabi voice over questions and answers with Dr. Ariella Zbar and Surrey Schools Superintendent Jordan Tinney

  • What is the process for case and contact management in 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?

    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.

    • 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 it safe for my child to attend school? 

  • What safety measures are being put into place 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. 
  • Which safety measure is most important? 

  • 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. 

  • 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.

    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.

    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. 

  • 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.

    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 happens when 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
  • 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. 

  • 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 if someone in a child’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 happens if someone is self-isolating, but they are not symptomatic or diagnosed with COVID-19?

  • What if someone has been confirmed as a positive COVID-19 case? Do household members have to self-isolate and stay home from 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.

  • 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. 

  • What safety measures are in place for activities outside of classroom 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. 

  • 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. 

  • 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.