Frequently Asked Questions: School During COVID-19

Updated 2021-08-31

Below are answers to commonly asked questions about school during COVID-19. Please visit this page regularly, as it will continue to be updated with the latest information.

COVID-19 Screening, Symptoms and Testing:

COVID-19 Case Management and Contact Tracing:

Masks/Face Coverings:

Classroom Environment:

School Transportation:

COVID-19 Screening, Symptoms and Testing:

Which screening tool should be used by students? Staff? Visitors? Parents?

Students and staff must self-screen every day before getting on a school vehicle or attending school using Ontario’s COVID-19 School and Child Care Screening . This tool help users make decisions about their/their child’s attendance at school that day and what to do should they/ their child have symptoms.

Visitors and parents visiting the school can also use Ontario’s COVID-19 School and Child Care Screening, but choose the “Visitors” option at the beginning of the screening tool.

NOTE:  Other screening tools exist for different settings. See the Government of Ontario’s website for screening tools to find the one that meets your needs. The general public can us the COVID-19 Self-assessment Tool to get a recommendation on what to do next if they were exposed to COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) or have symptoms.

Who must show proof of COVID-19 screening before entering a school?

Schools are required to implement enhanced screening protocols for staff visitors and students. Please consult your school or school board to know the requirements for proof of screening or active screening prior to entering the school.

My child has woken up not feeling well: What do I do?

If your child wakes up not feeling well, you must complete their daily self-screen to indicate which symptoms they are experiencing in  COVID-19 School and Child Care Screening. Once completed, this tool will indicate next steps to take and whether your child may attend school that day.

Please see Return to School Protocols during COVID-19.

If a child or a member of a child’s household has COVID-19-like symptoms and is excluded from school, must other household members isolate/stay home from school/work as well?

Fully vaccinated household members who do not display any Covid-19 symptoms do not need to self-isolate if their child is symptomatic or awaiting a Covid-19 test result (unless otherwise advised by their local PHU). Unvaccinated individuals or symptomatic individuals may need to also self-isolate.

Who in my family needs to be tested along with my child?

If your child has been identified as needing a test and everyone else in the family is well, no testing of other family members is needed. If your child tests positive for COVID-19, the local public health unit will contact you/your child and make a plan for additional testing of all close contacts.

COVID-19 Case Management and Contact Tracing

Please see Managing Students with COVID-19 Symptoms at School – Instructions for Staff

What happens when a staff member or student tests positive for COVID-19 in a school?

For more details, please see School Protocol When Staff or Students Test Positive for COVID-19

What is considered an outbreak in a school?

An outbreak would be declared in a school once it has been determined that there are two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students and/or staff with an epidemiological link within a 14-day period. Public health will investigate to determine that at least one case acquired the infection at school (including transportation and before or after school care) before an outbreak is declared, since it is possible that children could have been infected outside the school setting.

Once an outbreak in a school is confirmed, the EOHU will contact all students (or their parents) and staff who are considered close contacts of the cases.  The EOHU will provide direction on testing, monitoring of symptoms and the need to self-isolate for 14 days. The EOHU will provide recommendations on classroom or school closures based on current situation.

Is there a threshold or critical mass of cases that, once reached, would force the school to close?

No. Each situation will be carefully assessed by the EOHU and decisions to send home certain cohorts will be made based on level of risk. The decision to close a school partially or fully would be made under the authority of the local Medical Officer of Health, in consultation with the school and school board.

If my child is a close contact of a COVID-19 positive case in school, must the entire family self-isolate?

This decision will be based on symptoms and vaccination status of the close contact and their household members. Please see below algorithm to verify when one must self-isolate.

For more details, please see Appendix B: Case and contact management in schools for household members of high-risk contacts

My child received a negative COVID-19 test result. When can they return to school?

Please see Return to School Protocols during COVID-19.

Do I need a note from a doctor before my child goes back to school/child care or a copy of a negative test result?

No: The local Health Units are not recommending or requiring medical notes or proof of a negative test before your child returns to school/ childcare. Schools can request that parents complete the Back to School/ Child Care Confirmation form to attest that their child is safe to return to school.

Masks/Face Coverings:

Who must wear a mask/ face covering at school?

The Ministry of Education has mandated that all staff and visitors wear masks, as well as students in grades 1 to 12.

EOHU is strongly recommending masks for JK and SK.

All school-based staff will be required to wear medical/procedural masks, with reasonable exceptions for medical conditions.

Students must wear non-medical or cloth masks/face coverings:

  • in schools, including in hallways and during classes;
  • on school transportation;

Reasonable exceptions on the requirement to wear masks apply.

Students in kindergarten are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in indoor.

The Eastern School Transport Consortium requires that all students and staff wear a masks or face covering on school vehicle. However, the EOHU and Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario (STEO) is highly recommending that students in kindergarten wear non-medical face coverings/masks while traveling on school vehicles.

Who should not wear a mask/face covering?

The following students/staff should not wear a mask/face covering

    • Children under the age of two;
    • Individuals with medical conditions that make them unable to safely wear a mask, including breathing difficulties or cognitive difficulties;
    • Anyone who is unable to remove it without assistance.

    Is medical documentation required from a parent if their child cannot wear a face covering/mask?

    Follow your respective school board policy.

    Which types of masks are required for students, staff, and visitors to the schools?

    Staff and visitors should wear medical masks (i.e. surgical or procedural).

    Students are encouraged to wear non-medical or cloth masks/face coverings. A non-medical mask (face covering) can be the disposable type or made of cloth. A cloth mask (face covering) should be made of at least three layers of tightly woven material, such as cotton or linen. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends a 3-layer mask which includes a middle, filter layer. A 2-layer mask can still be used. If making or buying more masks, consider the 3-layer mask for improved protection.

    Masks (face coverings) should allow for easy breathing, fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops, be comfortable, not require frequent adjustment, and fit securely to cover the nose, mouth, and chin without gaping. Bandanas, scarfs, and gaiter masks that meet these requirements are acceptable face coverings.

    Safe masking practices should be reinforced with children and youth before they wear one. Learn how to wear one properly in this infographic.

    What is the difference between non-medical (e.g. cloth) masks/face coverings and medical masks?

    Non-medical masks/cloth face coverings and medical masks do not offer the same protection. Non-medical masks/face coverings are used for “source control”, meaning they protect those around the person wearing the mask and not the person themselves. They keep an individual’s own respiratory secretions contained within the cloth mask (face covering).

    Medical masks (i.e. surgical or procedural) are personal protective equipment. They provide protection for the user from the respiratory secretions of others while protecting for others from the respiratory secretions of the user. Procedural and surgical masks are not N95-Grade equipment, which is a specific device reserved for medical aerosolized interventions. The medical masks recommended for school staff are the same ones used by the EOHU’s Public Health Nurses when collecting COVID-19 samples at the assessment centre.

    Can a face shield be used instead of a mask in school?

    Face shields are intended to be used as eye protection and are not a substitute for wearing a face mask. A face shield does not filter respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets expelled by the wearer may escape around the sides of the face shield, which therefore provides less protection to others. While a face shield is not a substitute for a mask, it may be worn by someone who is unable to wear a mask due to breathing or cognitive difficulties, as it would be better than wearing nothing.

    If my child has a hearing impairment, can an educator wear a clear mask?

    School staff are required by the Province to wear surgical/procedural masks in schools. These types of masks are considered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Health Canada has approved use of the “Clearmask Transparent Face Mask” manufactured by Clearmask LLC as PPE.

    What is the proper way to put on and remove a mask (face covering)?

    Learn how to put on and remove a mask (face covering) with these resources:

    Should masks be worn during gym class or recess?

    As per the COVID-19: Health, safety and operational guidance for schools (2021-2022), high and low-contact activities are permitted outdoors without masking. High and low-contact activities are permitted indoors. Masking is encouraged for indoor sports where they can be worn safely based on the activity. Ensure students bring additional clean masks so they can change their mask if soiled, wet, or humid.

    Students are not required to wear masks outdoors but the EOHU will be asking all elementary schools to respect their cohorts during recess time.

    Please refer to your child’s school board’s mask policy for details on mask requirement during gym class or recess as they may impose further restrictions.

    When can students remove their masks/face coverings?

    Please refer to your child’s school board’s mask policy for details on when/where your child can remove their mask/face covering while at school:

    When students remove their masks/face coverings, where should they be stored?

    Students can store their masks (face coverings) on a hook attached to their desks, hanging it by the ear loop. A used mask (face covering) may also be stored in a clean container until ready to use again. Disposable masks should be thrown out in a proper garbage bin and not reused or recycled.

    Classroom Environment:

    Should physical distancing be practiced within a class cohort?

    In a class cohort, physical distancing of 2 metres is an important protective measure. Face coverings/masks must be worn indoors at all times.  Even during outdoor activities, such as recess, physical distancing is important and should be maintained.  Students are not required to wear masks outdoors, but distancing should be encouraged between cohorts as much as possible.

    NOTE: A mask is not a substitute for physical distancing.  Physical distancing must still be promoted even when students and staff are wearing a mask.

    Are children able to bring school materials back and forth each day?

    Yes. Students can only bring what is needed that day. Only essential items should be brought to school. A list will help parents and students to pack the appropriate items. For a specific list of essential items, please consult your child’s school or school board website. All personal items should be labeled.

    What are the recommendations for lunchtime?

    Students may eat together:

    • outdoors, without distancing.
    • indoors, with a minimum distance of two metres maintained between cohorts and as much distancing as possible within a cohort.

    Larger schools should employ various means to limit the number of students and cohorts eating lunch in proximity to each other (examples include staggered lunch periods, eating outdoors or in alternative spaces).

    Use of cafeterias is permitted as follows:

    • Capacity limits for cafeterias should be established to enable two metres distancing between cohorts, and as much distancing as possible within cohorts.
    • Where this is not possible, school boards are encouraged to work with their local PHUs to develop a plan that reduces the number of students and cohorts eating in proximity to each other as much as possible.

    Secondary students are permitted to eat off-campus.

    Each student is encouraged to bring their own drink bottle that is labeled, kept with them during the day and not shared.

    Use of shared microwaves/kitchen space is permitted.

    Are children allowed to leave the classroom during class time to go to the washroom?

    Yes. One student at a time is recommended. Before going, students will be reminded to practice physical distancing. For a group of children, a monitor is recommended. Students will be encouraged to wash their hands afterwards and to use hand sanitizer when they return to class to ensure their hands are clean. Teachers will keep a log within their classroom of what time their students left the classroom and what time they returned, for the purpose of contact tracing.

    A child is upset or has hurt themself. Can staff give them a hug to console them?

    It is important to meet the emotional and social needs of a child in distress. Therefore, while physical contact poses some risk of infection, measures such as staff wearing medical masks and visors will help protect both the wearer and those around them, reducing that level of risk, so that one can comfort a child through a hug if required.

    What are the recommendations regarding music classes at this time?

    Music programs are permitted in areas with adequate ventilation (read ventilation). Singing and the use of wind instruments will be permitted:

    • Use of wind instruments is permitted outdoors in mixed cohorts with distancing encouraged.
    • Singing indoors only permitted within cohort, masking required and distancing between individuals
    • Singing permitted outdoors with distancing maintained between cohorts, masking required if distancing not maintained between individuals within a cohort
    • Use of wind instruments not permitted indoors, to be reassessed once case counts (i.e., local incidence) have a sustained decline

    School Transportation:

    What precautions are being taken on school vehicles?

    • Students who live in the same household are expected to sit together, while single riders may be grouped with classmates, to the extent possible.
    • Students will have assigned seats and a record of the seating plan will be kept to assist public health with contact tracing.
    • The use of medical masks and eye protection (i.e. face shields) will be required for school bus drivers.
    • There will be enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces (e.g., handrails, seatbacks).
    • Students are encouraged to wash/sanitize their hands before and after the trip. 
    • Students in grades 1 to grade 12 students must wear a mask, unless exempted. It is highly recommended that students in kindergarten wear a mask. The Eastern School Transport Consortium requires that all students and staff wear a masks or face covering on school vehicle.
    • Where possible, the seat directly behind the school bus driver will remain empty.
    • Windows are opened when feasible to increase ventilation.
    • Students will unload from the front to the back, one seat at a time, while maintaining physical distancing between them.

    For more information, visit your child’s transportation authority’s website:

    Can a parent get out of their vehicle when dropping off their child?

    If required, parents can assist their child in going to their assigned outdoor locations. Parents are encouraged to keep their child close to them, to maintain a physical distance with others, and to avoid gathering and socializing with other parents and staff on school property.

    Eastern Ontatio Health Unit / Bureau de santé de l'Ontario