Staying safe at school during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ensuring a safe return to classroom teaching is essential during the COVID-19 pandemic for students, staff, and parents alike. Health and safety measures are expected to continue for children returning to school to ensure that in-person learning can resume safely.

Here are some of the changes you might encounter in your child’s classroom:

  • Signs promoting physical distancing, wearing masks, and regular hand washing1
  • Enhanced cleaning practices and ventilation2
  • Signage and floor markings to encourage distancing in areas like the cafeteria, hallways, foyers, and bathrooms1
  • Protocols in place to recognize symptoms of COVID-19, and designated spaces where children or staff who develop symptoms at school can wait until they are able to go home safely
  • Consistent learning groups or cohorts of students to minimize exposure within classes1

Students may be able to participate in extra-curricular activities such as music programs, clubs, and sports with adequate physical distancing depending on provincial guidance.3 You might notice extra-curriculars, clubs, lunch, recess, and some classes being held outside more often, weather permitting, to improve ventilation and to keep kids safe.1

Know the symptoms

Before heading to school, you should monitor your child each day for symptoms of COVID-19. Your child may have COVID-19 if they have some or all of the following symptoms:4

  • fever
  • coughing or sneezing
  • sore throat
  • difficulty breathing or fast breathing
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • diarrhea and vomiting
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • loss of sense of taste or smell

You can compare the symptoms of COVID-19 to those of the common cold, flu, and seasonal allergies here.

Some people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.4 However, if your child becomes sick or has been exposed to COVID-19 in the past 14 days, they should stay home from school as required by public health authorities and school board policies.1 There could be exceptions to this if your child develops certain symptoms such as mild headache, muscle aches, joint pain, or are feeling tired within 48 hours of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.5

If your child develops symptoms or has had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, you should help them complete a COVID-19 self-assessment or seek guidance from their health care provider on next steps, such as getting tested at a COVID-19 assessment centre.6 In the event of a suspected outbreak at your child’s school, check with the school or your local public health unit for further information.

Vaccination

Vaccines are the best way to stay protected against COVID-19.2 The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine be offered to all children and adolescents 12 years of age and older.7 If your child is too young to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, make sure that all eligible members of your household, as well as any caregivers, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.7

You can use the COVID-19 Vaccine Finder to find a Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy offering COVID-19 vaccinations near you.

Back-to-school safety

There are many things that can be done to prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. Encourage your child to continue infection control practices while at school, including:

  • Washing hands often with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose8
  • Practicing physical distancing by staying 2 metres away from other students9
  • Avoiding contact with others who are sick9
  • Wearing a mask as instructed by your local public health unit, especially when physical distancing is not possible9
  • Sneezing and coughing into their sleeve, and avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth9 with unwashed hands
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces9, such as their desk and pencil case

Non-medical masks, made of at least 2 layers of breathable fabric, are recommended for children above the age of 5 in shared spaces, and for those between the ages of 2 and 5 if supervised.10 They should be washed often, ideally at the end of each day. You can use your washing machine, or hand wash with hot soapy water.11 Masks should always be replaced if they become wet or dirty, so it’s best to send kids to school with some back-ups on hand.11

Schools should be well-equipped with plenty of hand sanitizer3, but you may choose to include a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your child’s backpack just in case. Children should be made aware that they should not put any sanitizer in their mouth, or rub their eyes when their hands are wet with sanitizer.8

References

  1. Government of Canada. COVID-19 guidance for schools Kindergarten to Grade 12. Updated June 15, 2021. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/health-professionals/guidance-schools-childcare-programs.html. Accessed August 13, 2021.
  2. Government of Ontario. COVID-19: Keeping schools safe. Updated August 05, 2021. Available from: https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-keeping-schools-safe#health-safety-measures. Accessed August 16, 2021.
  3. Government of Ontario. COVID-19: health and safety measures at schools. Updated August 05, 2021. Available from: https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-health-and-safety-measures-schools. Accessed August 16, 2021.
  4. Sick Kids. Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Updated May 25, 2021. Available at: https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Article?contentid=3872&language=English&hub=COVID-19. Accessed August 09, 2021.
  5. Government of Ontario. COVID-19 school screening. Updated August 10, 2021. Available from: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/school-screening/. Accessed August 16, 2021.
  6. Public Health Ontario. Checklist: COVID-19 Preparedness and Prevention in Elementary and Secondary (K-12) Schools. Updated March 03, 2021. Available from: https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/nCoV/sch/2020/09/covid-19-checklist-preparedness-schools.pdf?la=en. Accessed August 13, 2021.
  7. Canadian Paediatric Society. COVID-19 vaccine for children. Updated July 12, 2021. Available at: https://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/covid-19-vaccine-for-children. Accessed August 09, 2021.
  8. Canadian Paediatric Society. Hand sanitizers: Promoting safe use by children. Updated April 03, 2020. Available from: https://www.cps.ca/en/blog-blogue/hand-sanitizers-promoting-safe-use-by-children. Accessed August 16, 2021.
  9. Canadian Paediatric Society. COVID-19 and your child. Updated July 2021. Available from: https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/health-conditions-and-treatments/the-2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19. Accessed August 16, 2021.
  10. Government of Canada. Non-medical masks: About. Updated February 2021. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevention-risks/about-non-medical-masks-face-coverings.html#a1. Accessed August 16, 2021.
  11. Canadian Paediatric Society. Non-medical masks and face coverings for children during COVID-19. Updated August 2020. Available from: https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/healthy-living/non-medical-masks-and-face-coverings-for-children-during-covid-19. Accessed August 16, 2021.