The Regional Municipality Of York

ALERT: In response to the COVID-19 situation, York Region has declared a State of Emergency  |  Get the latest on our response to COVID-19  |  Masks and face coverings are mandatory in York Region effective July 17  |  Staying Safe at School during COVID-19


Staying Safe at School

York Region Public Health is committed to supporting the safe re-opening of schools for the 2020-2021 school year under the Ministry of Education’s Guide to re-opening Ontario’s schools. Learn more about Roles & Responsibilities for Re-opening Schools During COVID.

We will continue to work with our school board partners, parents, and the community as we prepare for our children’s safe return to school. Public health professionals, including public health nurses, will continue to support schools throughout the year as they implement plans, adjust, and adapt to ensure a successful, healthy, and safe school year.

For specific school re-opening information, visit your school board's website:

Please check the Resources section for child-friendly resources for educators and parents on proper handwashing, putting on and taking off masks,  COVID-19 symptoms and how to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Parents and students

We know that it has been difficult to make decisions about whether to send your child to school in person or to participate in online learning. Everyone's situation is different, and the decision to send your children to school in person or online needs to be one that works for you and your family.

Consider the risks that affect your family most

If your child participates in online or in-school learning, there are benefits and risks to each decision. The decision to continue online or in-school will be available at different points throughout the year. When considering your options, consider these key risk factors and how they impact your family:

  • Your child’s medical health
  • Household members and close contacts of your child, who may be at higher risk for serious illness due to age or health conditions
  • Your family’s ability to find childcare
  • Your family’s ability to assist with learning at home
  • Your child’s learning needs, and if they require in-class learning with a trained professional
  • Your child’s emotional, social and intellectual needs and development

How to prepare your child for learning this fall

Whether learning in person or online, the school year will be different this fall. Consider the following to help your child prepare for their return to school:

  • Have regular, open conversations with your child. Explain that because of COVID-19 there will be changes to school routines. Offer the information that you do know, such as if they will attend in person, learn at home, go to before or after child care, use the school bus or walk/bike to school.
  • Explain we can limit the spread of germs by wearing a face covering, avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth, and sneezing and coughing into a tissue or elbow/sleeve. Be positive as your child works to develop these skills, as it takes time to develop new habits. 
  • Teach your child how to wash hands properly. Learn handwashing together by watching videos geared to your child’s developmental age and practice timing 15 to 20 seconds by humming musical tunes together. 
  • Help your child get used to wearing a face covering as well as putting it on, taking it off and storing it safely. 
  • Prepare your child for new school rules to help limit close contact between people (physical distancing measures). 
  • Ask your child what questions or worries they have, and respond as best you can. It is okay to say there is information that you don’t know yet, and you will learn together. 
  • If your child has unique needs, speak with the school in advance to consider and plan for the changes in the school environment.

Check out Staying Safe: Back to school tips for parents and children to better prepare your child for learning this fall. Also see COVID-19 and Children’s Mental Health if you have any concerns about your child’s mental health from being out of school or their return to class.

Parent’s role in keeping schools safe


  • Complete this self-assessment daily before sending your child to school
  • Familiarize yourself, your family and your child with the common symptoms of COVID-19 so everyone knows what symptoms to look for in themselves and each other
  • If you or your child is ill with COVID-19 symptoms or you are concerned that you or your child has been exposed to a case of COVID-19, we encourage you to get tested at a COVID-19 Assessment Centre.

When to stay home

  • Anyone feeling unwell or showing symptoms of COVID-19 (students, siblings, family members) must stay home / not enter school
  • Any students and their families must stay home / not enter school if they:
    • Have had close contact with a confirmed case
    • Have had close contact with someone who is showing symptoms of COVID-19 who travelled outside of Canada 14 days prior to symptom onset
    • Have had close contact with someone who lived in or worked in a facility known to be experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 (e.g., long-term care home, prison)
  • Siblings of unwell students may attend school if they are symptom-free (i.e., well) and the unwell sibling has no close contacts as described above (with a confirmed COVID-19 case, with someone symptomatic who has travelled outside of Canada 14 days prior to symptom onset, with someone who lived or worked in a facility know to be experiencing and outbreak of  COVID-19)
  • Government safety measures for travellers still apply. Students and their families who have recently travelled outside Canada are required to quarantine for 14 days and cannot enter school during that time

Physical distancing

  • Parents should keep 2-metres distance when interacting with teachers, staff or other parents and students
  • Parents should maintain 2-metres distance during drop-off and pick-up

Getting to school

  • Consider using active transportation (e.g., walking, cycling, etc.) to get to school if possible. If your family/child is walking/biking to school with other families/children, keep 2-metres distance.
  • If your child normally takes the school bus, consider taking them to school if you are able and your situation allows for it. This may help with distancing on buses for those who do not have any other option.
  • On school buses, masks or face coverings are required for children in grades 4 to 12, and strongly recommended for students in kindergarten to grade 3.
  • Additional guidance for school bus use will be provided by your school or transportation service

Personal items

  • Limit personal belongings your child brings to school
  • Label everything, including masks and their storage containers
  • Don’t share food or personal items like school supplies and masks
  • Pack extra masks in your child’s backpack if possible
  • Consider packing a small bottle of hand sanitizer to use before and after eating (if your child can use it properly and safely)
  • You may want to pack a tea towel or cloth for your child to eat their lunch on, changing it each day

York Region Public Health’s role

York Region Public Health works with the Public and Catholic school boards to implement provincial standards and guidance to support the reopening of schools. Keeping COVID-19 transmission low at the community level will be key to preventing the introduction of the virus into schools. The primary goal is to make the return to school as safe as possible, balancing the risk of COVID-19 transmission with reducing other harms to the well-being of students, families and staff. Our role includes:

  • Support school boards in their reopening plans and provide public health information and support implementing provincial standards and guidance.
  • Facilitate knowledge exchange with the school community.
  • Provide infection prevention and control advice to schools for both in-school and transportation scenarios. 
  • Manage COVID-19 cases and outbreaks, including providing guidance to schools on confirming and controlling outbreaks. 
  • Support testing and surveillance of the school population. 
  • Provide ongoing support through a dedicated public health School Nurse who will be assigned to an area of schools and can assist in responding to school specific inquiries and make regular visits to the schools. 

Read more about York Region Public Health's role in re-opening of schools.

School Board’s Role

  • Develop and implement reopening plans following guidelines and recommendations from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and public health. 
  • Communicate with the school community about COVID-19 prevention measures and how cases and outbreaks will be handled, in collaboration with public health.
  • Support public health, and other stakeholders as appropriate, with the investigation of cases, contacts, and outbreaks. 
  • Ensure accurate records of staff and students’ attendance, as well up-to-date contact information for staff and students that can be accessed in a timely manner for investigations and communications.
  • Facilitate training of school staff with respect to outbreak prevention and control measures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Outbreak management

On August 26, the Province released the COVID-19 Guidance: School Outbreak Management. This guidance document provides information for local public health units (PHUs) investigating cases, outbreaks and suspected outbreaks associated with elementary or secondary (i.e., K-12) school settings. It is intended to supplement existing public health guidance on the Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.

Public health has a collaborative history of working with Public and Catholic school boards in York Region related to communicable and infectious diseases. Based on our experience York Region Public Health expects that we will use a similar approach to existing infectious diseases practices for school settings, which includes communicating to the school community.

For more details, see If COVID-19 is Detected in a School, What Does Public Health Do?

If a case of COVID-19 is identified in the school setting, York Region Public Health will conduct an in-depth case investigation to identify contacts of the case. In the school setting contacts are likely to be:

  • Students and the teacher in the same cohort
  • Siblings of the case in different grades
  • Any school staff who interacted with the case’s cohort while the case was infectious

Other contacts outside of school would also be investigated, such as household contacts, or any other place the case may have visited while infectious.

Public health will directly contact potential contacts of a confirmed case to advise on testing, self-isolation and/or self-monitoring. This may be in the form of a phone call or a letter to those potentially exposed. Public health will also communicate with students, parents and the school so they are kept up to date on cases and investigations.

Sports and Recreation

With a return to school, many students will want to participate in extracurricular sports. In Stage 3, sports with prolonged or deliberate contact are still not permitted. When engaging in any training or sport, participants should maintain a physical distance of two metres from others. With any sport, the total number of people permitted should adhere to the current gathering limits of 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. The total number of members of the public permitted to be spectators at the event at any one time is limited to the number that can maintain two metres physical distance and cannot exceed 50 indoors or 100 outdoors.

Information for School administrators, educators and staff

In order to follow the direction of both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education to safely re-open schools, enhanced public health protocols must be put in place. Through education and the application of infection control and prevention measures, our shared goal is to keep our community healthy and limit any possible transmission of COVID-19.

As COVID-19 is a new virus, new evidence and public health measures will likely emerge through the 2020-2021 school year. As information and protocols evolve we will continue to support schools to prioritize the health and safety of their staff and students. We continue to work closely with local school boards and schools to ensure the highest level of safety for our community. Public health is available for consultation and support as new situations emerge, and will provide clarification or additional information as needed in order to support the safest possible learning environment in York Region.

Child-friendly resources for educators and parents

Frequently Asked Questions

What are nurses and Public Health doing to help schools?

What is the role of the new Public Health Nurses?

The new Public Health School Nurses will not work in the same capacity as “School Nurses” once did. While they can assist with illness, they will primarily be responsible for coordinating infection prevention and control measures, education and supporting contact tracing in schools.

Nurses on the COVID-19 Schools Team will be responsible for:

  • Providing support to schools and school boards with the development and implementation of COVID-19 health and safety plans
  • Providing COVID-19 related support for:
    • Infection prevention and control measures
    • Surveillance, screening and testing requirements
    • Case and contact management
    • Outbreak management
  • Supporting communication and engagement activities with parents and local communities, as well as the broader health care sector

The priority of this new team will be on COVID-19-related responses. The additional nurses may also provide support related to existing public health activities to the extent possible as outlined in the School Health program standard in the Ontario Public Health Standards: Requirements for Programs, Services and Accountability, 2018.

Has Public Health been working with the school boards?

York Region Public Health has been working in close collaboration with our local school boards to help guide infection prevention and control measures, cohorting, screening, physical distancing, mask wearing and other public health interventions to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our classrooms. We will continue to provide guidance and advice to our school boards. When providing guidance, we consider factors such as the lower rates of transmission in our community.

The Regional Municipality of York en-US

What do I need to know about hand washing and hand sanitizing?

Is handwashing better or worse than hand sanitizing in young children?

All hand hygiene is great. We encourage all York Region residents, including children, to practice good hand hygiene by washing hands often with soap and water for 15 seconds. If you do not have soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a safe and adequate alternative.

Is there danger to using hand sanitizer in young children?

There is no danger in using hand sanitizer properly with young children. Alcohol-base hand sanitizers are typically made with a very high alcohol content (60% or greater). Should a small child drink hand sanitizer, they will be exposed to alcohol and risk being poisoned. It is therefore recommended young children always be supervised by an adult when using hand sanitizer.

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What do I need to know about students wearing masks?

Can prolonged mask wearing impact my child in a negative way?

It is safe to wear a face covering or mask for long periods of time. There is no research to show wearing a mask will cause any negative physical consequences. However, children may find face masks or coverings uncomfortable or warm and want to fidget with them. Remind your child they should not touch their mask, especially the front, when they are wearing it. And if they do touch it, they should be encouraged to wash their hands right away.

Children will be given opportunities to remove their masks for breaks including recess and lunch. You can provide your child with more than one mask per day to ensure they have enough clean ones to use should they require it.

View tips for masks and young children.

What are the masking requirements for schools?

Students in grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear masks indoors on school property. Students may wear their own non-medical masks and non-medical masks will be made available for students. Reasonable exemptions apply.

Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear masks in indoor spaces.

School staff who are in close contact with students will be provided with the appropriate PPE. The Ontario government will provide PPE and cleaning products to school boards.

How can my child safely store their mask during recess?

We encourage parents to teach their children how to put on and take off masks safely. We do not encourage the reuse of worn masks until they have been laundered. It is up to you where your child stores their used masks throughout the day but would propose you provide them with a paper bag for storage and another bag for dirty or soiled masks.

Let your child know to change their mask throughout the day at natural classroom breaks (recess, snack, etc.). Plan for your child to have enough clean masks to wear throughout the day until they return home.

How many masks should I send my child to school with?

York Region Public Health encourages you to change your mask whenever it gets soiled or damp.

We would encourage you to teach your child to change their mask throughout the day at natural classroom breaks (recess, snack, etc.) or safely store it. Plan for your child to have enough clean masks until they return home.

Reusable masks your child plans to re-wear after recess should be placed in a paper bag. Dirty masks should be placed in a plastic bag. We also encourage parents to teach their children how to put on and take off masks safely.

If my child sneezes in their mask do they need to change it? How should the “dirty mask” be put away safely?

If a child sneezes in their mask and it becomes soiled or moist, it is recommended it be changed.

York Region Public Health have prepared a poster to help teach children about how to put on and take off masks safely.

The Regional Municipality of York en-US

What happens if there is a case of COVID-19 at my child’s school?

What happens if there is a case of COVID-19 at my child’s school?

If someone in your child’s class, bus, day care or school tests positive for COVID-19, Public Health will intervene. There are many of variables that can influence risk of transmission. Public Health will assess the situation and depending on your child’s risk you may be asked to watch for symptoms or keep your child home for 14 days. If you or your child is ill with COVID-19 symptoms or you are concerned you or your child has been exposed to a case of COVID-19, we encourage you to get tested at a COVID-19 Assessment Centre. If your child is ill, they must stay home from school.

For more details, see: If COVID-19 Is Detected In A School, What Does Public Health Do?

The Regional Municipality of York en-US

What should I do if my child has symptoms?

What do I do if my child has a symptom of COVID-19?

If a child has new, worsening or unexplained symptoms related to COVID-19, seek assessment and testing as early as possible at a COVID-19 Assessment Centre and self-isolate while waiting for the result. If the test result is negative, self-isolate for 24 hours after symptom resolution, unless you have been a close contact of an existing COVID-19 case, in which case please contact York Region Public Health at 1-800-361-5653 and follow instructions and isolate for 14 days since last contact.

Will my child need to be tested for COVID-19 if they had an absence due to illness?

No, not necessarily. If your child has COVID-like symptoms you will need to keep them home for 14 days. If you wish to test them and the test is negative, they can return to school 24 hours after their symptoms resolve. You may wish to test your child for peace of mind or to speed up their return to school (if they are COVID-negative) but testing will not be forced by public health or the school.

The Regional Municipality of York en-US

Related Resources

York Region Public Health

York Region School Boards

Government of Ontario


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