Schools will be welcoming students back next Thursday — and parents are nervous but hopeful about the return to in-person classes.
Bob Sybydlo's son, Charlie, is going into Grade 1 in Toronto. He said it will be a welcome return because it will give him a chance to learn more social skills.
"It's nice because I feel like he'll have a chance to do some socializing and make friends," says Sybydlo. "I'm excited for him to have those experiences."
He said he hopes that school boards make the right decisions and pull the kids out of schools if COVID-19 numbers start to rise.
"Of course, it's a concern, there's no question," he said. "But what are you going to do? He needs those social skills. We're rolling the dice."
Charlie will wear a mask in school — either his dinosaur, Disney or Minecraft mask. And while some of his friends from kindergarten will be in the same class, there will be plenty of new children there as well.
"I get to meet new friends," Charlie said.
COVID-19 usually very mild in children: expert
The Toronto District School Board sent all parents a return-to-school note with reminders about the rules for the coming year.
Before coming to school each day, students will complete a health screening self-assessment to be cleared to enter the school. Then, all students will be required to wear masks indoors, the TSDB said in its email.
Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said kids do get COVID-19 and they can transmit it to each other and to their families, but parents should also know that the symptoms tend to be mild.
The more important thing is to protect children from spreading it further, she said.
"I would be worried, to some degree, that there is a chance that the child will get COVID," she said. "But my priority would be that everyone around that child, everyone in the family, grandparents, etc., are vaccinated."
The benefits of having kids back in schools outweigh the risks at this point, she added.
"We really don't know what is going to happen in the school year and what we can do is our best," she said. "Most people believe that having kids in school is the best thing for them, for their mental health — the ability to socialize and the kind of learning that happens in school is really important."
But parents do need to make sure that they keep their children at home if they get sick no matter what the illness is, Banerji added.
"It's a contract you make with other parents that if my kid has any new onset symptoms, they should be at home, ideally for 10 days."
Add COVID-19 vaccine to mandatory shots: TDSB
Bannerji said she expects outbreaks to happen and that the most important thing will be to vaccinate children at schools.
"If the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective for 5-to-12 year olds, and I expect the results will be back at the end of September, then we need to have that expedited," she said.
"You can very quickly vaccinate the kids, and after a while, you won't see these outbreaks in schools."
Alexander Brown, the chair of the Toronto District School Board, has asked the Ontario government to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for all eligible students.
He wrote a letter making the request this week to Ontario's Education Minister Stephen Lecce, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore and Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa.
The board passed a motion last week to create a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination procedure for all TDSB staff, trustees and visitors to disclose and provide proof of their vaccination status, but COVID-19 vaccinations are not currently required for students.
Ontario already mandates vaccinations for diseases such as measles, polio and tetanus before students can attend schools.