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Reduce the Risk of Spreading COVID-19 at School

Steps to protect yourself

Active Screening

Every student must complete a daily self-screening before going to school or childcare.

If a student has even ONE new or worsening symptoms, the student must stay home, self-isolate and get tested or contact a health care provider.

    • Fever > 37.8oC
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath
    • Loss of smell or taste
    • Sore throat or difficulty swallowing
    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Headache
    • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
    • Fatigue, feeling unwell, or muscle aches

Note: If the student has been in close contact with a person who has COVID-19, the student will need to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they don’t have symptoms. If the student has travelled outside of Canada, they must self-isolate for 14 days.

The Ministry of Health has an online screening tool specific for students and school personnel. The purpose of this screening tool is to help parents and guardians make decisions about whether or not their child/children can attend school. This tool should be completed daily before attending school. Using this tool is mandatory for high school students, as well as school staff and essential visitors. It is recommended that you contact a healthcare provider if you have more questions about your child/children’s health. This tool is subject to change as further guidance from the Ministry of Health becomes available. You can also access a printable version for students and children attending school or child care settings, or the printable tool for school staff and essential visitors.

Let your child know that if they start to feel sick at school, they should tell a teacher or adult right away. They will be taken to a quiet room away from others, and you or an emergency contact person will be called to pick them up. Please make sure to update these contacts with the school, if needed.

Hand hygiene

Handwashing, when done correctly, is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

Follow these five simple steps to keeping hands clean:

  1. Wet your hands with warm running water.
  2. Add soap, and then rub your hands together, making a soapy lather. Do this away from the running water for at least 15 seconds, being careful not to wash the lather away. Wash the front and back of your hands, as well as between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Rinse your hands well under warm running water.
  4. Wipe and dry hands well with paper towel.
  5. Turn off water using paper towel.

Hand sanitizers are useful in times where you or your child may not have access to running water and soap.

  • Apply a small amount (the size of a dime) of sanitizer and rub your hands together to cover all areas, including under your nails. Use a rubbing motion to evenly distribute the disinfectant product for about 15 seconds or until your hands feel dry.

How safe are alcohol-based hand sanitizers?

  • Hand sanitizers are safe when used according to the manufacturers’ directions.
  • While these products are safe for children (over 1 year), a young child should be supervised when using a hand sanitizer. Make sure children do not eat or drink the sanitizer, or touch their eyes, nose or mouth while the sanitizer is still wet on their hands.
  • Ensure safe storage as hand sanitizers may spill or leak if caps are not secure and/or if the bottle is tilted. If possible, apply hand lotion after using the sanitizer if it does not contain a skin-softening ingredient such as aloe. This will balance the drying effect of alcohol on the skin.
  • View Health Canada's list of approved hand sanitizers.

For more information, visit the Public Health Ontario hand hygiene factsheet.

Physical distancing

Physical distancing is one of the most effective ways of reducing the spread of COVID-19. While at school, make sure to keep a distance of 2 metres (6 feet) away from others as much as possible when walking in the hallways and staircases or when talking with classmates.

Check out stay two metres away to help your children learn about physical distancing.

For more information, visit the Public Health Ontario physical distancing factsheet and Physical Distancing: How to Slow the Spread of COVID-19.

Respiratory etiquette

Just like the flu, COVID-19 can spread through droplets (small drops of liquid) when a person who has the virus coughs or sneezes. When in close contact with an individual who coughs or sneezes, you may breathe in their respiratory droplets and become infected with COVID-19.

When you cough or sneeze on your hands, your hands carry and spread these germs and you may contaminate surfaces. When you touch an object such as a door handle, telephone or computer keyboard with unclean hands, you are spreading germs. The next person who touches these objects may pick up germs and get sick if they do not clean their hands before touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

Respiratory hygiene or etiquette involves measures that minimize the spread of respiratory germs.

When coughing or sneezing:

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hands.
  • Dispose of any tissues you've used as soon as possible in a lined waste basket and wash your hands immediately afterwards.
  • Wearing a mask or facial covering does not replace the proper cough etiquette. Continue to cough and sneeze in your sleeve, even while wearing a mask or facial covering.

Masks

Wearing a mask helps to trap respiratory droplets which can spread COVID-19 and protects people who are around you. Your mask must be secure and have a snug fit around your nose, mouth and chin.

  • Students in Grades 1-12 are required to wear a cloth mask while indoors on school property, outdoors when physical distancing is not possible, and while riding on school buses. This includes during classes and in hallways.
  • Masks are encouraged, but not required for students JK-SK.
  • School staff are required to wear medical masks.

Public health does not recommend ‘neck gaiters’, scarves, or balaclavas as an equivalent to, or substitute for a face mask in the school setting. The Porcupine Health Unit supports the recommendations for the use of masks in schools provided by the Ministry of Education. The Guide to Reopening Ontario Schools indicates that students are to wear a cloth mask as necessary. Please refer to your school board and school specific policies for further requirements.

For more information, please visit our webpage on masks and Public Health Ontario's fact sheet.

Storing Reusable Cloth Masks at School

There are times throughout the school day, like lunchtime, when students will be removing their masks. It is important for parents and students to know how they can properly store their reusable masks while they are not in use.

Reusable cloth masks should be stored in a labelled, clean and closable container to prevent contamination when not in use.

Lanyards are NOT recommended. Reusable masks should NOT be stored in pockets, lunch boxes or lay around on desks.

Help your child learn how to store their reusable mask safely by following these steps together:

  1. Wash or sanitize your hands
  2. Remove the mask by the ear loops
  3. Have your child recognize the signs of a mask that can be reused: not dirty, not wet, not crumpled
    • If the mask was dirty, crumpled, or wet, teach your child that they should use a new one for the rest of the school day
  4. If the mask is OK to reuse, prepare it for storage:
    • Fold the mask in half so that the outer surface is inwards (this ensures the contaminated outer surface is not in contact with anything during storage)
    • Place the mask in a clean, closable, and labelled paper bag, box, envelope or breathable container until ready to use again the same day
  5. Wash or sanitize your hands
  6. Bring home your mask and storage container to be cleaned daily

Washing reusable cloth mask

Reusable cloth masks should be washed at least once per day in hot, soapy water, be completely dry before using it again, and maintain shape after washing and drying.

When a reusable mask becomes dirty, crumpled or wet, students should transport it home to launder.

How to was reusable cloth masks:  

  1. Place the mask directly into the washing machine or a bag that can be emptied into the washing machine
  2. Wash your hands after putting the mask into the laundry
  3. Wash with other items using a hot cycle laundry detergent (no special soaps are needed)
  4. Let the mask dry completely before wearing it again

If a washing machine is not available, hand-wash using soap and warm/hot water and allow to dry completely before wearing it again.

To help keep up with laundry, consider having multiple masks for your child so when one gets dirty, there is a clean spare ready to go.

Wearing a mask outdoors

Should children and teachers wear a mask in outdoor settings at school?

Yes. Children, teachers and child care staff should wear a mask in outdoor settings whenever a physical distance of two or more metres cannot be maintained.

Current evidence tells us that the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus in outdoor settings is much lower than in indoor settings. Physical distancing is easier to maintain and there is much greater air circulation when outdoors. This reduced risk is because people are less likely to be exposed to infectious respiratory droplets (from coughing, sneezing, shouting, singing, talking, breathing).

Although outdoor settings may reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, the risk is not eliminated. Masks help to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in outdoor settings where physical distancing may be difficult to maintain (such as at a bus stop).

Shared Spaces

Talk to your kids about the infection control measures that will be put in place at school this year in shared spaces such as washrooms and cafeterias/lunchrooms.

  • Respect the maximum of people allowed at once and wait outside if needed
  • Stay 2 metres away from others at all times
  • Wear a mask (all staff, all students on buses, students grade 4-12, students JK- grade 3 are encouraged if they can wear them properly and safely)
  • Clean hands thoroughly

Immunization

Vaccinating your children is the best way to keep them safe from many serious and potentially deadly diseases. You can help protect your children by getting them vaccinated on time and keeping their shots up-to-date.

  • Students in Grade 7 are eligible to receive free Hepatitis B, Human Papillomavirus and Meningococcal vaccine. Stay tuned for how to access these vaccines this school year.
  • Please visit immunization requirements for school for more information.

Flu shots are also available by appointment.

For information about the COVID-19 vaccinations, visit our COVID-19 vaccine webpage.

Mental Health

School Mental Health Ontario has resources for parents, students and educators to support mental health and well-being.

Please view this list of COVID-19 Mental Health Resources for additional information.

Nutritional Breaks and Lunch Hour

Students may leave school property for nutritional breaks and/or lunch hour, unless the school or school board provides other direction.

If a student is permitted to leave the school property for nutritional breaks/lunch, they are reminded to:

  • Wear a mask when exiting and entering the school
  • Wear a mask outside if two metres of physical distance cannot be maintained
  • Keep a minimum of two metres of physical distance from others at all times
  • Wash hands before and after eating
  • Wash hands when exiting or entering the school.

As per the current emergency order, students may not go to a friend's house for lunch/nutritional breaks or other activities. Only immediate household members are allowed.

Healthy Eating

Although it may feel like we don’t have much control over this school year, we can make sure we send our kids to school with healthy foods to give them the energy and nutrients they need to learn and play. Follow these tips below to keep children safe and nourished during COVID-19.

Pack healthy lunches that do not require reheating and include a reusable water bottle.

  • Take a few minutes the night before to plan and put together lunches for the next day. As a family, prepare a list of favourite lunch and snack foods. If your child is tired of the same old routine, introduce a weekly menu with different choices.
  • Skip the juice or sugary drinks, and go for water, milk or fortified soy beverages and keep them cold with two ice packs. Send water in a reusable bottle labelled with your child’s name.

Include your children in making lunches. This will encourage them to enjoy the healthy choices you pack and improve their food skills.

  • Give them healthy options to pick from - they will be more likely to eat a lunch that they choose.
  • Older children can help make sandwiches or stuff pitas, while younger children can place snacks into containers.
  • Take your children grocery shopping and let them choose some of their favourite foods like breads, vegetables, fruit and yogurts.

Looking for inspiration when it comes to school lunches? Find recipes here.

Try to pack waste free lunches as much as possible using items such as: reusable lunch bag or box, thermoses, stainless steel water bottles, reusable plastic containers, cloth napkins, and reusable utensils.

  • Choose to buy food that is not over-packaged like dried fruit, trail mix and other yummy snacks at a bulk food store.
  • Let nature wrap your food for you! Oranges, bananas, apples and hard-boiled eggs all come with their own handy packaging.

For more information, read our document on School Meal and Snack Programs during COVID-19.

Active Transportation

Active forms of travel (walking and biking) and private transportation by parents and caregivers, are encouraged where possible, to ease pressure on school bus demands. Walking and rolling to school can give your child many benefits, such as: increased readiness to learn, reduced stress, and increased levels of happiness. If you decide to drive your child to school, consider a safe drop-off location away from the school and let your child walk the last five minutes, or 1-2 blocks. This will allow them to enjoy the benefits of physical activity and help you create a safer school zone. Walking and rolling the whole way, or part of the way, will reduce traffic around the school and provide your child with the opportunity to temporarily remove their mask. For more information, visit Ontario active school travel.

For information on school bus policies, visit your school board's website.