COVID-19 outbreaks in schools will be difficult to avoid. Experts say creative solutions are needed to stop them

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TORONTO – Experts say outbreaks in schools may be impossible to avoid altogether, but teachers, governments and school boards can find creative ways to mitigate risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As families voice concerns about the Ontario government’s back-to-school plans, experts are making key recommendations to ensure things don’t get out of hand once the kids return to class.

Pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Anna Banerji told CTV News Toronto on Wednesday that while she is very worried about the back-to-school plans as they stand, she believes things can. be improved with a little creativity before September.

” I’m worried. There is a likelihood of epidemics and no one knows what will happen. It would be a shame if it suddenly led to a flare-up, but hopefully we will be able to control it, ”the associate professor of the University of Toronto School of Public Health said.

“I think the province can do better to minimize or reduce the risk and I think municipalities, parents and teachers can start to think and try to find solutions for you to keep the children more separated.

Keep COVID-19 at bay

Banerji said that while the disease cannot be ruled out of school with absolute certainty, there are ways to try.

If the appropriate social distancing is not respected and children do not wear masks, the worst-case scenario could be that the disease spreads from one child to an entire classroom or school and then spreads to families and the community.

“The best scenario is that the child gets sick, maybe one or two people can get sick, but because of the masks and the distance, the infection is not widespread. ”

She advises schools to perform daily symptom checks with students’ families to predict if a child has COVID-19.

Temperature controls, she said, could also be used but shouldn’t be just relied on.

“Temperature controls can be complementary, but can also give a false sense of security,” she said. “Many, if not most cases of COVID do not have a fever. I think the family’s daily symptom check is a better predictor. ”

If symptoms are detected, Banerji advises families to keep this child at home and away from vulnerable family members.

Wearing masks is essential to control the spread

Experts have stressed the importance of masks for children returning to school to prevent the potential spread of the disease.

The Ontario government’s current school plan states that elementary school children in Kindergarten to Grade 8 will return to school five days a week and that non-medical masks will be mandatory for students in Grades 4 to 12. year.

Banerji stressed that wearing a mask is vital in stopping the spread of the disease in schools and advises wearing masks for children of any age who could “tolerate” it doing so.

“I think all children should wear masks if they are able to given their age. I think it can get younger, ”she said. “I think we have to understand that it is not without risk… but what we can do is reduce the risk. ”

Go off the beaten track

Concerns about ventilation in schools and the size of classrooms are real concerns that people need to be concerned about, Banerji said.

“When you have a whole group of people close to each other in a small space, that’s where the virus spreads,” she says. “We have to make sure that the ventilation is better and that the children are more dispersed. This is how you handle it. ”

She also said that hand sanitizer stations should be set up on site in every classroom and children should be kept away from each other.

Those are the basics, she says, but there are also ways to make things safer by thinking outside the box and getting creative and considering the use of empty auditoriums, gyms, zones and halls. skating rinks in community centers.

“There are a lot of places, especially now, that are not being used because of COVID, so maybe it’s time to use this community center. Communities and municipalities need to start thinking outside the box about where we might put children where it is safer. and expand them further, ”Banerji said.

“This is what they need to do now and not just wait for the province to say this is the right thing to do… We shouldn’t feel like we are stuck in the same situation just because it is is how we did things. ”

Stay vulnerable, be safe

In case there are epidemics at the start of the school year, Banerji advises families to keep vulnerable people “away”.

“We have to cocoon them while all of this is happening so that vulnerable people are not exposed to the virus,” she said.

What happens when a student or staff member contracts COVID-19?

According to the government’s back-to-school plan, any student or staff member who develops symptoms of COVID-19 will be immediately separated from others.

Staff and parents will then be contacted by their healthcare provider and will be notified of COVID-19 testing centers.

People who test positive for COVID-19 will not be allowed to return to school until they are cleared by public health. Anyone who tests negative can go back to school after they have no symptoms for 24 hours.

Schools will be required to immediately report any suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.

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