Covid-19 and Covid-like Illness in Schools
People with Symptoms
Staying home when sick or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 will help protect others from exposure to the virus. Being tested is also important to help to identify if COVID-19 is circulating in the community and to limit further transmission.
The most common symptoms described in children include:
- feeling unwell/unusual tiredness
- body/muscle/joint aches
- cough (new or worsening)
- runny nose/nasal congestion/sneezing
- loss of sense of taste or smell
- sore throat
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
When assessing for COVID-19 symptoms, it is important to think about the time of year and what is usual for the person.
- Are the symptoms normal for this person ie. asthmatic cough, chronic runny nose
- Are the symptoms new and worsening
- Is the person feeling unwell; i.e. fever, new cough, etc
A medical mask will be given to and worn by the symptomatic student/staff/volunteer, unless there are safety issues that prevent the person from wearing a mask.
Students with symptoms:
They will be given a medical mask to wear, unless there are safety issues that prevent the person from wearing a mask.
Parents or guardians will be notified to come and pick up their child immediately and follow public health advice regarding testing and isolation.
If the student is young and requires close contact and care while isolated at school, staff can continue to care for the child until the parent is able to pick up the child. Caregivers are to be mindful of hand hygiene and avoid contact with the respiratory secretions of the student. The staff person caring for the child should wear a mask.
Staff/volunteers with symptoms:
- They should be given and wear a medical mask (unless there are safety issues that prevent the person from wearing a mask), immediately isolate themselves from other staff and students, notify their administrator, return home and follow public health advice regarding testing.
Anyone who develops symptoms while at school should self-isolate:
Staff/students/volunteers must wash their hands before and after touching a mask as per mask guidance, and before and after touching any items used by the person with symptoms
All items that the person touched/used while symptomatic must be cleaned and disinfected as soon as the person has left the building. Items that cannot be cleaned and disinfected (e.g., paper, books, cardboard puzzles) must be either disposed of or removed and stored for a minimum of 24 hours.
- When students/staff/volunteers with symptoms have tested negative for COVID-19, they may return to school if they are feeling well and symptoms have improved.
- Schools should not notify staff or students’ families (other than the family of the ill student) if a staff member or student becomes ill at home or at school, including if they display symptoms of COVID-19, unless directed to do so by public health.
If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 connected with a school
Public health will lead the response and provide guidance; including ensuring appropriate public health support is in place to coordinate the response.
Contact tracing will be done to identify the contacts of a positive case and contacting those who may have been exposed.
Public Health may:
- Request records that identify cohorts/groups of staff, students, volunteers and visitors in the school for a specified timeframe;
- Offer testing to staff, volunteers and students that may have been exposed to a positive case; and
- Advise staff, volunteers, and students if they have been in close contact with a positive case if they need to self-isolate or self-monitor, be tested, and when they can return to school.
Students and staff with cold, influenza, or COVID-19 like symptoms should stay home, self-isolate, and get be assessed by a health-care provider. Testing is recommended for anyone with these symptoms, even if the symptoms are mild.
Self-isolation and testing are also required for those who are considered a close contact of a confirmed case. Public health staff will identify and notify close contacts of a confirmed case. The Chief Public Health Office CPHO will work with school authorities to quickly:
identify close contacts1
initiate isolation measures when needed
provide follow-up recommendations
- A single COVID-19 case that is associated with a school does not necessarily constitute an outbreak and will not automatically lead to school closure. Two or more unrelated cases associated with a school would be considered a COVID-19 cluster.
- Two or more related cases in a school would be considered a COVID-19 outbreak. Even in an outbreak scenario, it is possible that only the group of students and staff who came in close contact with the positive cases will be required to stay home and self-isolate. Public Health will contact those individuals who are close contacts.
- 1Close contact is defined as someone who lives with or otherwise had close, prolonged contact (more than15 minutes within 2 metres) with the person up to 48 hours before symptoms began or while the person was symptomatic and not isolating, OR had direct contact with infectious body fluids of the person a case (e.g., was coughed or sneezed on) without the appropriate use of recommended personal protective equipment.
Managing an outbreak in a school
If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 connected with a school, public health will lead the response and provide guidance and support. Contact tracing will be done to identify the close contacts of a positive case and inform those who may have been exposed.
Measures for managing cases of COVID-19 in schools:
- The Chief Public Health Office will work with school authorities in order to:
- Identify cases,
- Identify close contacts,
- Initiate testing and isolation measures when needed, and
- Provide follow-up recommendations to prevent further spread of COVID in the school community.
School Outbreak Definition
An outbreak in a school is defined as two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students and/or staff (or other visitors) in a school with an epidemiological link, within a 14-day period, where at least one person could have reasonably acquired their infection in the school (including transportation and before/after school care). Two or more unrelated cases associated with a school would be considered a COVID-19 cluster.
Examples of reasonably having acquired infection in school include:
- Known exposure in the school setting; or
- No obvious source of infection outside of the school setting.
Outbreak management measures in schools:
- The Chief Public Health Office will support school officials regarding decision-making for enhanced measures in schools in outbreak situations, including the potential of moving to online learning.
Communicating with parents
Communication to parents, guardians and staff regarding case(s) of COVID-19 in a school will be the responsibility of the principal, with support from the Chief Public Health Office.
All public communication will be coordinated between the school, Public Schools Branch and the Chief Public Health Office.
Declaring the outbreak is over
The Chief Public Health Office will determine when the outbreak is considered over, and when:
- At least 14 days have passed with no evidence of ongoing transmission that could reasonably be related to exposures in the school;
- There are no further ill people associated with the initial exposed cohorts with tests pending.