Toronto’s SickKids hospital has updated its recommendations for children returning to schools during the pandemic.
In a release, the hospital says the document, Updated COVID-19: Guidance for School Reopening, was written with input from experts from across Ontario, using evidence from in and outside of Canada.
In-person, full-time learning remains the primary goal, and the hospital says the authors examined “evidence from around the world and reviewed the experiences from other jurisdictions” to better understand how students and staff in Ontario can safely return to school in the fall. As research evolves, so too will the recommendations, which are based on the best evidence available during a certain time.
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“This document brings together current evidence that can be used in local communities throughout the province to get kids back into schools,” said Dr. Lindy Samson, chief of staff and infectious diseases physician at Ottawa’s CHEO, and co-author of the document. “It provides a foundation to guide important conversations that should now occur between policy-makers, local school boards, educators, public health units and, if called upon, other health experts.”
The document offers specific recommendations on a variety of ways to keep students safe, including the “complex and nuanced issue” of mask-wearing.
Largely, it suggests taking an age-based approach and recommends the masks be worn by highschoolers, though 61% of the authors agreed they should not be required for elementary students, as it may impact social development and younger children have more problems properly wearing a face covering.
When asked on Wednesday about the recommendations around masks specifically Ontario Premier Doug Ford deferred to the experts.
“I never argue with medical professionals,” he said, “especially at SickKids.” Adding that the minister would be “rolling out his plan this week,” though he declined to comment when.
“Some people have concerns about these masks, other people say they should be wearing them. This is a path we’re going down, where nowhere in the world they know what’s going to happen.”
There are 16 recommendations made in the report on the following topics:
- Screening to prevent symptomatic individuals from entering the school
- Hand hygiene
- Physical distancing
- Non-medical and medical face masks for students
- Environmental cleaning
- Mitigation of risk for students at higher risk for severe disease
- Special considerations for children and youth with medical, physical, developmental and/or behavioural complexities
- Mental health awareness and support for all children
- Protection of teachers and school staff
- Protection of at-risk persons or families
- Management of suspected and confirmed SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 cases and their contacts
- Communicating about COVID-19 to children, youth and parents/caregivers
- Opportunities to improve evidence-based decision making
- Additional considerations