Ontario schools in low-risk communities should remove COVID-19 restrictions like distancing and cohort, experts say – .

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Ontario schools in low-risk communities should remove COVID-19 restrictions like distancing and cohort, experts say – .


Schools in communities with low numbers of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 should be able to forgo physical distancing and cohort in the fall while taking a more relaxed approach when it comes to screen students for symptoms, according to a new article published by Ontario Science Table.

The document, which was prepared by an expert group led by SickKids, argues that schools should remain open to in-person learning “barring catastrophic circumstances” and that extracurricular activities should be prioritized as “an important component of back to school plans ”. . “

The 41-page report says school measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should continue for now, but it suggests they should be imposed differently depending on the level of “community COVID-19 burden.”

The experts’ recommendations are based on three different scenarios – one in which there are only “limited and sporadic cases” of serious illness, another in which there is “early evidence” of an upward trajectory of the disease. severe and a third with a high prevalence of severe illness and a continuing upward trajectory of hospitalizations.

At best, they say, contact tracing and low-barrier testing would serve as “an early warning system for emerging variants and increased transmission,” allowing schools to revert to something closer to. the pre-pandemic normal.

This means that there would be no distancing or grouping requirement, although experts say class sizes “should always be as small as possible” and that class shuffling should only take place there. ‘outside.

In the moderate and high risk scenarios, experts recommend a return to physical distancing in the classroom, but only for older students. For younger students, they say “cohort and masking” should be emphasized instead.

“For young children in particular, cohorting and masking are strategies that should be prioritized over physical distancing to allow close interactions. For older students, masking and distancing are preferred strategies for the cohort because of the negative impact of the latter on schooling, social interactions, sports and extracurricular activities, ”the document states.

MORE SYMPTOM SCREENING ON ARRIVAL

Last fall, students were greeted by a new world in which they were screened for symptoms upon arrival at school and had to stay home for 14 days or test negative for COVID-19’s. they had a runny nose.

Experts say screening students for symptoms upon arrival at school posed “significant operational challenges” and should only be considered in the high-risk scenario in the next school year.

They say that in the low-risk scenario, the list of symptoms should be narrowed down to include only those that are more commonly associated with COVID-19, such as a fever or persistent cough.

They also say fully vaccinated students who develop symptoms should be exempt from an earlier policy requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days or test negative for COVID-19.

Experts are also calling for the resumption of a host of activities that were either suspended or significantly altered as the pandemic spiraled out of control last year.

They say gatherings can resume in “low-risk communities” but should virtually only be held in “high-risk communities”. Intramural sports and competitive sports, on the other hand, can be organized both outdoors and indoors in low-risk communities, but in high-risk communities they should only be organized. outside.

Cafeteria closures are not recommended for any of the scenarios, but experts say that in high-risk communities, additional measures such as staggered lunch breaks and shorter lunch times could be put in place to reduce the risk of transmission.

“The other jurisdictions were able to organize in-person gatherings, music education, clubs and sports during the 2020-2021 school year, with school measures adapted to the burden on the community,” the document said. “With a high rate of vaccination in the community and reduced community transmission, there should be a return to offering these rewarding activities to Ontario students during the 2021-2022 school year, with measures appropriate mitigation as needed, and cancellation considered only in high-risk scenarios. “

SCHOOL BOARDS SHOULD OBTAIN DATA ON IMMUNIZATION RATES

The document does not take a position on the need to make vaccines mandatory for eligible students and school staff, but does say that schools and school boards should have access to “anonymized and aggregated information” on immunization in order to support targeted education and better accessibility.

He says the education ministry should also explore other options, including immunization policies, “to optimize immunization coverage.”

“Vaccination is the most effective preventive intervention and its widespread adoption will dramatically reduce infection rates, even in unvaccinated people, including children. As such, it is essential that vaccines are easily accessible and promoted for all approved age groups, and offered as a permanent community measure to all at-risk groups in order to improve regional immunization coverage when outbreaks occur. localities in schools or communities occur, ”the document said.

The Ford government has yet to release its plan to resume classes, but Education Minister Stephen Lecce has already suggested a plan be made public this month.

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