Frequently Asked Questions: School During COVID-19

Updated 2021-02-18

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:

Visitors at the School:

Classroom Environment:

School Transportation:

International Quarantine Requirements:


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 has ONE new or worsening symptom (that is not related to a known cause or condition) that include fever/chills, cough. shortness of breath, decreased or loss of smell or taste sore throat, stuffy nose/runny nose, headache, nausea/vomiting/diarrhea, fatigue/lethargy/muscle aches/malaise, your child should isolate immediately. You should contact your child’s health provider for further advice or assessment. The health care provider can help you determine whether the symptoms are related to another non-COVID-19 condition, or if they should get tested for COVID-19.

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?

YES. ALL household members must self-isolate until the person receives a negative test result or an alternative diagnosis from a health care provider confirming the symptoms are not related to COVID-19. For more information, please see Return to School Protocols during COVID-19.

Example: A teacher has a child in their household who has a new or worsening symptom of COVID-19 (e.g., a fever or runny nose). Both the teacher and child (as well as all other household members) must stay home and cannot attend school or work until the symptomatic child receives a negative COVID-19 test result or alternative diagnosis. If the child tests positive or is not tested, the child should quarantine, including from other household members, for 10 days from symptom onset. The teacher and the other members of their household, as close contacts of a probable case, should quarantine for 14 days from their last contact with the child.

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?

All household members of an asymptomatic high-risk contact will be asked to stay home for the duration of the high-risk contact’s quarantine, except for essential reasons. Essential reasons include attending work or school/childcare, errands for food, medication, and essential medical appointments. Non-essential visitors must refrain from entering the home during the isolation period. High-risk contacts must isolate for 14 days from last exposure, even if their test result comes back negative.

A close contact is defined as someone who has had a high-risk exposure to a case. The EOHU will identify who has had a high-risk exposure using information provided by the parents/students, schools, school boards and the school transportation authority. The other members of the household should limit close contact with the child, must carefully self-monitor for symptoms and must get tested if symptoms develop. In the case of a younger child needing close contact from an adult caregiver, it would be wise to limit the contact to one adult caregiver, where possible.

Example: An child has an asymptomatic sibling in their household who has been directed to self-isolate because they were in a classroom with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 (i.e., the sibling is a high-risk contact). As long as the child and sibling are both asymptomatic, the child can continue to go to school, but should not leave home for 14 days for non-essential reasons. However, the sibling who is the high-risk contact should stay home as directed, and not attend school.

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.
All school-based staff will be required to wear medical/procedural masks, with reasonable exceptions for medical conditions.
Students in grades 1 and up must wear non-medical or cloth masks/face coverings:

  • in schools, including in hallways and during classes;
  • on school transportation;
  • outdoors during recess, where physical distance cannot be maintained.

Reasonable exceptions on the requirement to wear masks apply.

Students in kindergarten are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in indoor and outdoor spaces of the school.

The Eastern School Transport Consortium requires that all students and staff wear a masks or face covering on school vehicle. However, the EOHU and School 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?

    No, medical documentation is not required.

    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?

    A mask should be worn by all during lighter-intensity activities. A mask must be worn when activities are held where physical distancing may be challenging.  This applies to both indoor and outdoor settings. Teachers should adjust activities to ensure that there is sufficient space in the gymnasium or outdoors for adequate physical distancing (2 metres) between student/staff.

    If your school board policy permits it, students may remove their mask while engaging in vigorous physical activity – physical distancing must always be maintained.  Planning vigorous physical activity outdoors is ideal.

    Ensure students bring additional clean masks so they can change their mask if soiled, wet, or humid.

    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.

    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.
     

    Visitors at the School:

    Who can visit the school?

    Schools are asked to restrict visitors, including parents. Communication with parents can occur mainly through virtual or phone methods.

    Schools will restrict visitors to only those who are essential. Visits to ensure school safety, such as inspections by the Ministry of Labour, Fire Marshal’s office or by public health, can continue to take place. All visitors to a school, including parents who must enter the school, are required to be actively screened, wear a medical/procedural mask while on school premise and conduct hand hygiene upon entering. Records of visitor attendance will be kept.

    For the delivery of school-based supports and services by an external community-based agency, local protocols for school access by regulated health professionals, regulated social service professionals and paraprofessionals are developed.

    Can parents/guardians come to the school to give medications to their children, if needed?

    Medications/treatment can continue to be given by staff members to the student, as per the instructions in the child’s care plan, which is completed by the parents and confirmed with the school. If a parent is required to be present to provide the medication/treatment, the school and the parents will establish a plan to ensure the child receives their medication/treatment.

    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. Masks must be worn outdoors as well if physical distancing cannot be maintained.

    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 will eat lunch in their classroom with their cohort, where possible. Lunch times may be staggered to allow students to wash their hands before eating, without creating congestion in washrooms or hand washing stations. Hand sanitizer will be offered if hand washing is difficult. If weather permits, lunch breaks may take place outside. Students must not share food or drinks. Self-serving food items will be removed (e.g. “toast station” or self-serve bins). Microwaves are not permitted as per Ministry guidelines.

    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.

    Can teachers sing as part of their instruction?

    The EOHU is currently discouraging school staff from singing in class. While we do recommend the use of a Plexiglas barrier for those singing indoors, it may encourage the students to sing at the same time (which is not recommended). Humming is an alternative (although not ideal) option.

    If educators would like to include signing in their instruction, another option would be to do so outside while ensuring the children are spaced at least 3 meters apart. For younger groups of children, it would be important to have visual markers to remind them of minimum 3-metre distance (e.g. hula hoops or cones that mark their spots).

    What are the recommendations regarding music classes at this time?

    Activities in music classes may pose an increased risk of transmission for numerous reasons, notably due to the possibility of transmission due production of infectious droplets while playing a wind or brass instrument or touching / blowing into an instrument recently used by an infected person. Therefore, the EOHU is recommending the following precautions for music classes:

    • The use of wind/brass instruments is not permitted.
    • Do not allow students to share instruments or accessories
      • If shared, clean as per standard protocol for the instrument after each use and between users. Use a disinfectant or alcohol wipe when possible
      • Do not share cleaning cloths or instrument brushes
    • Increase physical distance between students or use plexiglass barriers between students/staff if physical distancing cannot be maintained.
    • Consider outdoor music classes, with increased physical distancing between students.

    According to Public Health Ontario, given the lack of data relating to the potential for transmission related to wind instruments and the effectiveness of interventions for reducing aerosol dispersion, it is unclear if musician masks or instrument covers would significantly affect potential viral respiratory transmission.

    Further suggestions on how to teach the subject while limiting risk can be found in the document by the Ontario Music Educator’s Association: A Framework for The Return to Music Classes in 2020/2021.  

    School boards have chosen various approaches to music classes. Please consult your child’s school/school board for more information on their decision on how their schools plan to provide music classes.

    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.

    International Quarantine Requirements:

    Can schools accept international students?

    If students from other countries are permitted to come to Canada by governments, international students can be accepted into schools. Schools must notify the local Health Unit of any international students. If the Government of Canada’s emergency order under the Quarantine Act is still in place, students must comply with this order to isolate for 14 days. For information on the latest travel advisories and mandatory isolation visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/latest-travel-health-advice.html

    Are children living with essential cross border workers required to self-isolate each time their household member returns from international travel?

    As essential cross border workers are exempted from federal quarantine requirements, children living with them should be exempted from a similar quarantine. It is recommended to self-monitor for COVID-19-like symptoms. The school board should require daily screening for the child prior to attending school. The same guidelines would apply for any school board employee who shares a household with an essential cross border worker.

    A school board employee or student is accepting an individual into their home for their 14-day quarantine period following international travel. Is the employee or student required to isolate themselves for this 14-day quarantine period as well?

    If they have not been in contact with the individual who is on 14-day quarantine, they are not required to self-isolate. It is possible to share common areas without being in contact as long as they stay 2 metres away, clean and sanitize commonly touched surfaces and wear masks. Ideally, the individual should stay in a completely separated area during the quarantine period.* If they cannot separate from others in the household, the students and/or staff in this situation would not be permitted to enter the school.

    * It is recommended that the individuals who are in quarantine have totally separate living spaces. Caution should be taken with delivering meals:  put a tray outside of the living space and pick it up from that same location when done. If possible, they should wear gloves when removing the trays from the living space, immediately discard any leftover food and wash dishes in hot soapy water or dishwasher. As well, anything that comes in contact with the tray should be thoroughly cleaned. Of course, individuals should perform thorough hand hygiene following the removal of gloves.

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