Heading into the new school year, Public Health Sudbury and Districts is encouraging everyone: “Stay home if you’re sick.”
Since school ended for primary and secondary students in June, some significant changes have been made to COVID-19 guidelines.
For the provincial government, the priority has been getting kids back into the classroom and back on track with their schooling. That means a return to full-time, in-person learning.
Unlike last year, there will be no mask mandates, per provincial guidelines, said Christine Quesnel, a Public Health school-focused nurse.
Instead, she said, anyone who shows symptoms should stay home, regardless of whether they test positive for COVID.
“We’re trying to move towards a new way of functioning right now, to live with COVID,” said Quesnel. “But we do recognize, especially entering into the fall and winter, that this is respiratory season. It’s going to pose some challenges in the way we deal with it.”
As masks come off, Quesnel said it’s expected that there will be a resurgence of other viruses in school that haven’t been spreading as quickly in the last few years. That includes influenza, Norwalk, and rhinovirus, among others.
“Because a lot of the symptoms are overlapping and very similar, it will be difficult to determine if it's COVID, a cold, influenza, or some other virus.”
Going into the school year, the recommendation is that anyone experiencing symptoms of illness stays home until their fever has gone away and their symptoms have improved for 24 hours (or 48 hours for gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea).
After that, normal activities can resume, but individuals are recommended to wear a mask in public for 10 days.
While masking isn’t mandated, three-ply cloth masks will still be available on site to those who want them.
“Every individual case is going to be different,” said Quesnel of the new guidelines. “It’s going to be based on the individual person’s symptoms.”
For that reason, students and staff are still encouraged to self-screen every day before going to school.
This year, school days will also look much more like they did before the pandemic began.
For one, students won’t be separated into cohorts to minimize their bubble of contacts. Physical distancing also won’t be enforced, though anyone masking after an illness is advised to maintain distance when removing their mask to eat or drink.
Public Health is also continuing to encourage anyone who can get a COVID-19 vaccine to do so, and to keep up with booster shots.
A vaccine is now available for children aged six months to five years, and boosters are now being offered for children from age five to 11. Quesnel said parents are encouraged to ensure their child is vaccinated ahead of the school year.
Parents of immune-compromised children, or those with other medical concerns, are encouraged to get in touch with their child’s health care provider to formulate a plan to minimize health risks in the classroom. Parents can also contact Public Health directly for more information.
As guidelines ease, Quesnel is encouraging everyone to remain respectful of others’ decisions.
“It’s really important to keep in mind that we need to be respectful and kind, and recognized that not everyone is at the same place with the comfort level. There are many people that have unique situations, whether it’s their own personal health, or they have a family member that’s high risk within their home.”
She added, “Our message is really for everyone to do what they feel comfortable with, and to ensure that we have a respect for that.”
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Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star