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If COVID is Detected in Schools, What Does Public Health Do?

Reminder to parents of kids in schools

Many parents are wondering what happens if someone at a school tests positive for COVID-19. What will York Region Public Health do?

Local public health units are required to follow the Province of Ontario’s COVID-19 Guidance: School Outbreak Management. This guidance document provides information for local public health units (PHUs) who are responsible for investigating cases, outbreaks and suspected outbreaks associated with elementary or secondary (Kindergarten to Grade 12) school settings. This guidance supplements 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. Public Health has well-established reporting practices with schools to quickly identify when schools are experiencing fluctuations in attendance, including practices for reporting of illnesses. Principals have a mandate under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to report to public health if they suspect a student may have a communicable disease.

What happens if there’s a confirmed COVID-19 case in a school?

If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school setting, York Region Public Health will:

  1. Receive a notification of a positive individual that attended school while infectious. Notifications may come from labs, health care providers, school principals, parents/guardians or a health unit from another jurisdiction.
  2. Verify if the individual attended school while infectious and conduct an in-depth case investigation to identify contacts of the case, including contacts within and outside of school.
  3. Post information related to case on the york.ca/covid19data dashboard. The York Region District School Board and York Region Catholic School Board will also post information on their websites if the school is within their board.
  4. Collect information during the investigation including, but not exclusive to: did the individual ride the bus or attend before and/or after school care at the school? What personal protective equipment (PPE) or masks were worn by the individual, students, and staff while the individual was infectious?
  5. Confirm if the school is under surveillance or there is a potential outbreak.
  6. Work directly with the school board and Principal to outline all actions needed to manage the case or outbreak in the school.
  7. Directly notify potential contacts of the 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.
  8. Communicate daily with the school principal and school staff to monitor for any new symptomatic staff or students and advise on any additional testing and self-isolation required.
  9. Advise when students and staff are safe to return to school.
  10. Advise on infection and prevention and control measures needed (e.g., cleaning, disinfection).
  11. Aid with communication to parents to ensure timely and accurate messaging.
  12. Monitor the school daily until there are no new cases of COVID-19 for 14 days after the last case. If the school is in outbreak, when there are no new cases of COVID-19 for more than 14 days, the outbreak will be declared over.

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

View COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres on our interactive dashboard

A new feature has been added to the COVID-19 dashboard with information related to COVID-19 in schools at york.ca/covid19data. This information is updated once daily at 5 p.m. seven days a week.

COVID-19 cases in schools are reported as follows:

  • Outbreaks in schools: An outbreak is declared in schools with two or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period, with at least one case which could have been acquired in the schools.
  • Schools Under Surveillance: Schools with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case among staff, students or visitors, where there is currently no evidence of transmission within the school.

Reminder to parents and guardians

Please check your child daily for symptoms of COVID-19. 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, get tested at a COVID-19 Assessment Centre. If your child is ill, they must stay home from school.

York Region Public Health is committed to transparency and working together with schools, school boards, students and parents. During COVID-19 outbreaks in school settings, York Region Public Health will work alongside our community partners to ensure frequent communication is provided to anyone impacted, while maintaining the privacy of those involved.

If someone at your child’s school tests positive for COVID-19, please remember:

  • Parents will be notified
  • Public Health will conduct contact tracing and monitor and notify parents/staff of risk as needed
  • Not all students are at-risk if someone at school tests positive
  • Close contacts will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, monitor for symptoms and get tested
  • Use trusted information sources like York Region Public Health and your school board, to avoid speculation and misinformation
  • A confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school doesn’t necessarily mean there is a risk of transmission. Public health will directly contact anyone who is identified as a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case.
Visit york.ca/covid19 for information on symptoms and everything else about staying safe at school in the Region.

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