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Symptoms, Testing and Cases of COVID-19 at School

The Porcupine Health Unit (PHU) works closely with local school boards to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 and provide resources for schools to be prepared if any students or staff are a confirmed case of COVID-19.

PHU School COVID Team’s Role

In accordance with provincial standards and guidance, the PHU:

  • Provides public health information to support school boards with their reopening plans.
  • Provides infection prevention and control advice to schools, including student transportation.
  • Provides age-appropriate resources for schools on COVID-19.
  • Promotes resources and community supports available for parents, students, and school staff.
  • Provides ongoing support through a dedicated team of school public health nurses who will be assigned to schools to assist in responding to school specific inquiries.
  • Supports testing and surveillance of the school population.
  • Provides guidance to schools on confirming and controlling outbreaks.
  • Manages follow up for confirmed cases and outbreaks of COVID-19.

School Board’s Role

  • Develops and implements school reopening plans following guidelines and recommendations from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health.
  • Facilitates training of school staff on outbreak prevention, infection prevention and control (IPAC) measures, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Communicates with schools about COVID-19 prevention measures and how confirmed cases and outbreaks will be supported in collaboration with the PHU.
  • Collects accurate records of staff and students’ attendance and up-to-date contact information that can be accessed for COVID-19 investigations.
  • Supports the PHU with identification and follow up of students and/or staff with COVID-19, close contacts of confirmed cases, and schools experiencing outbreaks.

Role of Parent(s) and Guardian(s)

  • Provide the school with up-to-date contact information for each parent/guardian and emergency contacts.
  • Inform the school of any medical conditions their child has.
  • Screen their child(ren) every morning before sending them to school. The screening tool will help you determine whether they can safely send their child to school each day.
  • Contact the school as soon as possible if their child has COVID-19 like symptoms and will not be attending school.
  • Have their child tested for COVID-19 based on recommendations from the screening tool and/or health care providers.
  • Keep their child home if they are awaiting a COVID-19 test result.
    • Please note: Parents/guardians do NOT need to call the PHU to inform them that a child is sick, has symptoms, or has a negative lab result. The PHU will follow up as necessary.
  • Have a plan in place in the event that their child cannot attend school or is required to go home during the day.
  • Ensure their child’s immunizations are up-to-date.
  • Read all communications from the school and the PHU. Check the COVID-19: Schools webpage regularly for updates.


While completing the daily school screening at home,

  • if a student has even ONE new or worsening symptoms, they must not attend school. Instead, the parent/guardian should contact the school to advise of the absence. The student must self-isolate and get tested or contact their health care provider. To arrange testing, they can call their local assessment centre. If you do not have an assessment centre in your community, call the Porcupine Health Unit or your health care provider.
  • If a student becomes symptomatic at school or on the school bus, the parent/guardian will be contacted for immediate pick-up (older students may walk/drive themselves home).

While a student is awaiting COVID-19 test results, they must remain in self-isolation and cannot attend school in-person.

Note: This direction applies only to those who have not been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or travelled to a COVID-19 affected area in the 14 days prior to their symptom onset.

Do Household Members of Symptomatic Staff or Students Have to Isolate and Get Tested?

Parents, siblings and other household members of a symptomatic child are required to stay home and quarantine.

  • All asymptomatic household contacts of symptomatic children are required to quarantine until the symptomatic child receives a negative COVID-19 test result or receives an alternative diagnosis by a health care professional.
  • If the symptomatic child tests positive or is not tested and does not receive an alternative diagnosis by a health care professional, household contacts must isolate until 14 days from their last contact with the symptomatic child.
  • Household members and other contacts of the symptomatic person should self-monitor closely for symptoms and arrange to be tested if ANY symptoms occur. This direction applies only to those who have not been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or travelled to a COVID-19 affected area in the 14 days prior to their symptom onset. Additionally, if there is any concern about a particular situation call the PHU.

A Student Has Symptoms but is Not Being Tested for Covid-19, Now What?

Testing for students with symptoms should be strongly encouraged. However, there are various reasons why an individual may choose not to be tested.

  • Students with an alternative diagnosis from a health care provider that is NOT related to COVID-19 can go back to school if they meet the following criteria:
    • They do not have a fever (without using medication); AND
    • Their symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or at least 48 hours if their symptoms were vomiting/diarrhea); AND
    • They were not in close contact with someone who currently has COVID-19.
  • If a student is not tested and has any new or worsening symptoms not related to an existing medical condition, the student must self-isolate for 10 days from the date their symptom(s) first appear. They may return to school after 10 days if they do not have a fever (without taking medication), AND their symptoms are improving for 24 hours.
  • A note from the health care provider (physician/nurse practitioner) is not required, AND, it is recommended that the school have the returning student/parent or guardian attest, in writing, that a health care provider (physician/nurse practitioner) has made a clear alternative diagnosis (and/or advises no testing).

Note: This direction applies only to those who have not been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or travelled to a COVID-19 affected area in the 14 days prior to their symptom onset

How Can I Get My COVID-19 Test Results?

  • Using the online portal, results can be accessed in a fast and secure way through your computer or mobile device.
  • If the test result is positive, public health will contact the individual directly.

A Student or Staff Has Tested Negative for COVID-19, Now What?

A negative test result means the test did not identify COVID-19 in the sample that was collected.

Note: this does not mean that the individual cannot be exposed to, test positive for or show symptoms of COVID-19 at any time after their test. Continue to practice all public health measures.

A student or staff can return to school if:

  • They do not have a fever (without using medication); AND;
  • It has been at least 24 hours since their symptoms started improving.
  • Mild symptoms known to persist in young children (e.g., runny nose or persistent cough) may be ongoing at time of return to school IF other symptoms have been resolved AND there is a negative test result.
  • Documented proof of the negative test result is not required.

Note: This information does not apply to those who are a close contact of a confirmed case, who have travelled outside of Canada within the past 14 days, or who attend a school that is in an outbreak.

Someone in My Child’s School is a Confirmed Case of COVID-19, What Should I Do?

The PHU is currently monitoring the situation and following up with students and staff identified as close contacts. Contacts will receive a letter from the PHU through the school, advising them of recommendations, and will be called by a public health nurse within 24 hours to conduct a more detailed assessment and will provide further guidance at that time.

How Do I Know if My Child is a Close Contact of the Confirmed Case? What is a Close Contact?

A close contact is typically someone who had a prolonged exposure in close proximity to a person diagnosed with COVID-19. The PHU identifies close contacts through a detailed review of factors such as the individual’s symptoms, where they have been, and who they have interacted with. Close contacts are contacted directly by the PHU and receive further guidance.

The following are examples of people who may be considered close contacts:

  • A person who came within 2 metres (6 feet) of a person who has tested positive; the longer they were within 2 metres the higher the risk*
  • A person who lives within the same household or provides care to a person who has tested positive (e.g., bathing, feeding, or dressing)
  • A person with whom a person who has tested positive had close physical contact (e.g., shaking hands or hugging)
  • A person who may have been coughed or sneezed on by a person who has tested positive

Other factors may impact the risk of the exposure such as if the interaction occurred inside or outside, how long the interaction was and if personal protective equipment was worn (i.e. mask, eye protection, etc.). The PHU will discuss these factors when speaking with people who have COVID-19 and their close contacts.

*Please note: Interactions where people briefly come within 2 metres (6 feet) of each other, such as walking by someone in the hallway or on the street, are generally not considered close contacts.

What if My Child is Identified as a Close Contact?

Close contacts are advised to stay home and self-isolate for 14 days from last exposure to the case during their infectious period. Other recommendations such as testing will be provided by the public health nurse who will be in touch regularly.

What if My Child Attends the Same School or Before/After School Program and is Not Identified as a Contact?

At this time, we recommend that you continue to monitor yourself and your child for symptoms. If symptoms develop, isolate immediately and call your local assessment centre to arrange testing.

Symptoms can include:

Fever, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, sore throat/hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing, loss of sense of smell or taste, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or runny nose or nasal congestion.

But in some cases, atypical symptoms could develop, such as, unexplained fatigue or malaise, muscle aches, delirium, unexplained or increased number of falls, acute functional decline, exacerbation of current chronic conditions, chills, headaches, croup, conjunctivitis.

Practice proper hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette, practice physical distancing, clean commonly touched items/surfaces, avoid touching your face, and wear a mask in all indoor public spaces and both indoors and outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained from those outside your household.

Why Aren’t COVID-19 Cases in Schools Identified When the PHU Reports Case Numbers?

The Porcupine Health Unit takes protecting personal health information very seriously.

In the North our communities are much smaller and as a result it is much easier for the public to identify the case. This is especially true in school settings. In order to prevent stigma and to protect your privacy and confidential health information, the PHU does not identify COVID-19 cases as being linked to a school.

Remember: spread kindness, not COVID.

Outbreaks at School

Why Aren’t Outbreaks Declared When a Case is Found in the School?

In order for an outbreak to be declared, TWO or more students, staff or visitors must test positive for COVID-19 among additional requirements (see the next question and answer).

If only ONE student, staff or visitor has tested positive, an outbreak will not be declared.

My Child’s School Has Declared an Outbreak of COVID-19, What Does That Mean?

An outbreak in a school may be declared when:

  • Two or more students and/or staff (or other visitors) test positive for COVID-19; AND
  • the infections are connected to one another; AND
  • the infections are within a 14-day period; AND
  • at least one of the individuals could have reasonably been infected in the school (including transportation and before/after school care).

What Happens When an Outbreak is Declared?

The PHU and local school boards will notify parents of the outbreak. An investigation will take place to determine potential exposures to the confirmed cases.

All close contacts will be provided with recommendations for next steps including self-isolating, monitoring for symptoms, and testing when appropriate. Some cohorts may need to be in self-isolation at home until a date determined by the PHU, similar to individual case follow up.

The PHU will continue to investigate to determine any additional close contacts and monitor the situation until the outbreak can be declared over.

Are All Staff, Students and Visitors Considered Close Contacts if an Outbreak is Declared at School?

Every outbreak will be different. Through case investigation, the case and contact management team will determine who is at high risk.

The PHU will determine if the infected individuals had contact with anyone outside of their cohort at school, during transportation to/from school, during before/after school programs and what personal protective equipment (PPE) or masks were used.

Based on the outcome of the outbreak investigation, further guidance may be provided to staff and students.

If an Outbreak is Declared at School, Why is the School Not Closed?

It is possible for a school to remain open during an outbreak. Public health will determine if the school can remain open depending on how many student cohorts are affected. This decision will be made in consultation with the PHU, school boards and the school experiencing the outbreak.

When Will a School be Closed?

Whole school dismissal may be considered if there is evidence of potential widespread transmission within the school. This may include having a number of cases in students, staff or essential visitors with no known source of acquisition outside of the school and no obvious epidemiologic links within the school.

If an Outbreak is Declared and the School is Closed, When Will it Reopen?

The outbreak does not necessarily need to be over to re-open the school. Cohorts without evidence of infection may gradually return to school as the investigation continues. Consideration should be given to implementing additional preventive measures and active surveillance as part of re-opening.

The PHU will provide direction on the return to school.

When Will the Outbreak be Finished?

The PHU will declare the outbreak over. Considerations include:

  • At least 14 days have passed and there is no evidence of ongoing spread of COVID-19 that could reasonably be linked to infections in the school; AND
  • Other students or staff connected to the first cohorts exposed to COVID-19 are not sick and no test results pending.

What Should I Do While I Wait for the Outbreak to be Over?

Follow the direction from public health if your child has been named as a close contact.

Continue to monitor your child for symptoms. If symptoms develop, isolate immediately and call your local assessment centre or your health care provider to arrange testing.

For more information, please visit COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres.


How Do I Know What Areas Are Considered High-Risk For COVID-19?

In Ontario, see which areas are high-risk with this interactive map. The PHU is asking students and staff who are travelling from a high-risk area within Canada to consider self-isolating as much as possible upon their return. In addition, individuals who have travelled anywhere outside of the PHU area are asked to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days while continuing to follow their daily routines. If symptoms do present, students and staff should self-isolate immediately and contact their health care provider or an assessment centre to arrange testing.

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