Toronto’s SickKids Hospital released updated guidance on how schools can safely reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday.
The updated document builds upon the original one released by a group of medical experts across Ontario in mid-June.
The experts said they agree that bringing children back to school for “in-person, full-time learning, with appropriate risk-mitigation strategies to ensure everyone’s safety, is the ultimate goal.”
The group analyzed the latest data and information from not only Ontario but Canada and the rest of the world.
The experts said that children are not the super-spreaders of COVID-19 they initially believed they would be. While children can spread the virus, it appears as though it has a far lower frequency than initially expected.
“While this may, at least in part, be related to testing strategies and test performance in children and youth as well as early school closure, there is some data to suggest children, particularly those under 10 years of age, may be less susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and potentially less likely to transmit the virus to others,” the document read.
However, there is some data that suggests children over 10 years old can transmit the virus at the same rate as adults.
The experts said the focus needs to be on the “safety and welfare” of the children rather than helping parents and caregivers be able to return to work.
In regards to the school calendar, the Ontario government provided several options to school boards, including a remote, hybrid/adapted and daily in-person models.
The experts recommend that children should return to a daily school model, however, “with risk mitigation strategies in place.”
The document also highlighted the benefit of a daily school model in regards to social and economic inequality.
“An important factor to consider in this respect is emerging evidence indicating inequalities in the social and economic burden of COVID-19, which may further disadvantage children/youth living in areas with higher infection burden where educational inequality and barriers to online learning may be more pronounced,” the document said.
“Therefore, return to school and implementation prioritization decisions should be based on the principle of equity for all children and youth.”
The document outlines 16 recommendations below:
1. Screening to prevent symptomatic individuals from entering the school
2. Hand hygiene
3. Physical distancing
4. Non-medical and medical face masks for students
6. Environmental cleaning
8. Mitigation of risk for students at higher risk
for severe disease
9. Special considerations for children and youth
with medical, physical, developmental and/or
10. Mental health awareness and support for all children
11. Protection of teachers and school staff
12. Protection of at-risk persons or families
13. Management of suspected and confirmed
SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 cases and their contacts
14. Communicating about COVID-19 to children,
youth and parents/caregivers
15. Opportunities to improve evidence-based decision making
16. Additional considerations
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