When it comes to getting your child to wear their mask at school, Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health (MOH) for Grey Bruce Health Unit (GBHU) says it is best to encourage but not force the issue.
“The best results are achieved by encouraging kids and that's for multiple reasons. First, sometimes younger kids are not reliable enough to wear a mask correctly. Secondly, some older kids would have the attitude that if you say you must, you've immediately lost more people than you've gained. So the net benefit of mandating it is not there. It's actually the opposite,” he explained.
Arra was joined by a number of Grey-Bruce school board representatives at a virtual town hall meeting held Thursday evening.
He said wearing masks to school should be encouraged, but it is not a make-or-break situation.
“It's similar to if a house was on fire and somebody was worried about the curtains being open or closed. Let's focus on putting out the fire,” he said.
“I would encourage everybody around the table to focus on the bigger picture and on the variables that are making difference – that screenings are happening every, single day and constant hand washing – these are the things that matter."
During the session, Gillian Jordan, public health manager for GBHU's School Health Team outlined the hierarchy of controls being put in place within the classroom, which include public health measures, environmental controls, administrative measures and PPE.
“We don't rely on PPE on its own,” Jordan said. “We know sometimes they’re subject to user error or sometimes we forget them at home, and that's why we pile on all the other layers in the pyramid to make sure if something happens with our masks, it's not our last line of defence.”
Both Jordan and Arra point to the daily screening requirement of all students as a major contributor to the region’s ability to keep schools outbreak free.
“This is an important piece to the daily process of keeping COVID out of our schools. And, I think we owe it to ourselves as well as our classmates, our teachers and fellow families to make sure we're doing the screening honestly,” Jordan said. “If it's telling you to go get tested, go get tested.”
Jordan added that GBHU’s contact tracing team is working seven-days-week to ensure all high-risk contacts are notified as soon as possible.
“There's no shame in a positive result, we just want to see that any follow up is done appropriately and in a timely manner,” she added.
GBHU has been seeing favourable COVID-19 case numbers in recent weeks, even marking the first day with no new cases in the region since the onset of the second wave on Thursday.
“This is as good as it gets for a pandemic of this calibre,” Arra said. “It's difficult to use the word success with a pandemic, because it's a hardship. But, we have achieved this.”
As of Feb.3, GBHU reported 655 confirmed cases, 628 resolved and 26 active cases. The region has seen little in the way of outbreaks and has reported one death.
Despite the low case numbers, Arra insists that if any increased risks were to arise, there will be operational changes to the local schools.
“If there is the slightest benefit, or the slightest risk in the equation, we will change accordingly, including going completely to online learning if need be,” he said.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca