covid 19 virus

COVID-19 and School Reopening – Public Health Information for Families

Last reviewed/revised:  10:07 a.m., September 24, 2020

Peterborough Public Health (PPH) is working closely with local school boards and surrounding local public health units to implement provincial standards and guidance to support the safe 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.

For specific questions about returning to school please be sure to refer to the Guide to Reopening Ontario Schools website and your child’s school board FAQ website:

For information about how schools and public health will deal with students/staff who become ill, visit the Operational Guidance: COVID-19 Management in Schools document.

Visit Ontario’s dedicated webpage to learn about coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Ontario schools and what happens if an outbreak is confirmed at your school or daycare. Data is updated every weekday at 10:30 a.m.

You must screen your child for symptoms every day before they come to school. You can use the Ministry of Health’s Ontario COVID-19 self-assessment tool for this purpose. If your child has any symptoms of COVID-19 or if they are ill, they should not attend school. Follow these instructions if your child does not pass the screening tool: COVID Protocol – Child Did Not Pass Screening PPH-DHU-HKPR


Peterborough Public Health’s Role
School Board’s Role
Public Health Measures


Questions & Answers

  1. What can I do to make sure my child stays as safe as possible when they return to school?
  2. What about children of parents who have to travel internationally for work, such as long-haul truckers and airline pilots?
  3. Does the self-screening need to be done daily?
  4. What if my child does not pass the COVID-19 screening?
  5. Will my child have to physically distance at school?
  6. Who is required to wear a face covering at school?
  7. Why face coverings are not required for students K to grade 3?
  8. What is considered an outbreak at school?
  9. Should I have my child tested for COVID-19 before they go back to school?
  10. What if a student shows symptoms at school?
  11. What if there is a positive COVID-19 case at school?
  12. Does my child need to have a negative COVID-19 test result or a doctor’s note in order to return to school after recovering from COVID-19?
  13. What if a parent/guardian tests positive for COVID-19?
  14. What about eating and drinking at school?
  15. What public health measures will there be on buses?
  16. What mental health supports are there?
  17. What if my child attends private school of I home school?
  18. What can my family do to protect ourselves from COVID-19?
  19. If there is knowledge of a known illness as determined by a physician, ie. allergies.  Do we make allowances or do they go home too?
  20. Will it be mandatory for students to get a COVID-19 test if they have a COVID-19 symptom? Or will it just be recommended?
  21. If students have a symptom and get tested for COVID-19, how long will results take?
  22. If students have a symptom and get tested for COVID-19, must they wait for results to go back to school even if they feel fine again before results come back?
  23. If students test negative for COVID-19, and have known exposure to a COVID-19 case in the last 14 days, but still have a symptom, how long do they wait until going back to school?
  24. Are school staff required to wear masks and face shields?
  25. Where can I find more information?

Additional Information

Reopening Guidance Documents
School Boards and COVID-19
Other COVID-19 Resources for Children
KFL&A Video: What’s the difference between people gathering and students in a classroom?


Peterborough Public Health’s Role 

  • Support School Boards in their reopening plans and provide public health information to support the implementation of provincial standards and guidance to help ensure healthy school environments
  • Provide infection prevention and control advice for both in-school and transportation scenarios.
  • Investigate and manage COVID-19 cases and outbreaks, including providing guidance to schools on confirming and controlling outbreaks.
  • Support testing as required and surveillance of the school population.
  • Provide ongoing support through dedicated Public Health School Nurses who can assist in responding to school specific inquiries and support schools in a comprehensive way. This may include regular consultation and visits to the schools as required.
  • Provide age-appropriate resources on COVID-19.
  • Continue to offer comprehensive school health programming such as immunization, student nutrition, physical literacy, substance prevention and other public health screening/programming to keep students healthy

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School Board’s Role

  • Develop and implement reopening plans following guidelines and recommendations from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Peterborough Public Health (PPH).
  • Communicate with the school community about COVID-19 prevention measures and how cases and outbreaks will be handled, in collaboration with PPH, prior to the start of school and ongoing throughout the year.
  • Support PPH, and other stakeholders as appropriate, with the investigation of cases, contacts, and outbreaks.
  • Ensure accurate and up-to-date attendance and contact information of staff and students, which 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).

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Public Health Measures

Public health measures to help reduce risks of COVID-19 infection transmission include students and staff members staying home when sick or feeling unwell, frequent hand washing and/or hand sanitizing before and after entering the school and classrooms, increased cleaning of surfaces at schools and on buses, avoiding sharing personal items, maintaining a physical distance of two metres from others  and keeping students in cohorts (groups). The guide to reopening Ontario schools has more details on these and other strategies, informed by public health advice and jurisdictional research, to ensure schools are healthy and safe learning environments for students and staff.

Here are some important key messages for parents and guardians to review with their child before schools starts:

  • All students and staff members must self-screen at home each day before coming to school. Any person who is displaying any of the symptoms listed in the self-assessment, such as a fever, will need to remain at home.
  • Everyone must stay at home when they are sick or feel unwell, even when symptoms are mild. Staying home helps prevent the spread of illness to others.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer  to clean away germs.
  • Students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear non-medical or cloth masks indoors in school, including in hallways and during classes. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear masks in indoor spaces.
  • Ensure that personal belongings are clearly labeled (e.g. masks, water bottles, lunch containers), and do not share food with other students and staff.
  • Practice ‘no touch’ greetings with your friends and teachers at school. Let’s share a wave and not our germs.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper arm, not your hands! Throw the tissue away, and wash your hands right away.
  • If you don’t feel well, tell someone.
  • Avoid touching your face. Germs easily spread from your hands to your mask or face.
  • Bring your own water bottle from home to stay hydrated throughout the day.
  • When not wearing a mask, physical distancing is especially important to keep you and the friends around you healthy.
  • Make sure your immunizations are all up to date.

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1. What can I do to make sure my child stays as safe as possible when they return to school?

It is important to remember that school staff are working hard to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within the school. As a parent, you can help keep your child safe by practicing health behaviours at home before school starts. This includes wearing a mask when out in public, playing with friends from a distance, regular hand washing, and avoiding touching their face. These are behaviours that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Starting them now will help your child become familiar with them by the time school starts.

When school begins, make sure you keep your social circle tight, send your child with safety supplies like a mask and hand sanitizer. As a parent you must also review the self-assessment tool daily and keep your child home if they present symptoms or have come into contact with an international traveller or confirmed COVID-19 case.

More tips on how to prepare your child for attending school:  Preventing COVID-19: Tips for Children Attending School

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2. What about children of parents who have to travel internationally for work, such as long-haul truckers and airline pilots?

Certain individuals who travel internationally for work – such as airline pilots and long-haul truckers – are exempt from the mandatory quarantine when entering Canada because their work is defined as essential under the order of the Quarantine Act.  Exemptions are reviewed at the border by a border services officer and do not apply to anyone who has signs or symptoms of COVID-19 (those individuals, if ill, would not be granted access back in to Canada).

Their children are required to self-isolate only if their parent has travelled outside Canada in the previous 14 days AND is ill with COVID-19 symptoms.  Therefore, students of parents who travel internationally and who have been exempted from the Quarantine Act may attend school as long as their parents are healthy and have no symptoms of COVID-19.

More information on essential workers who are exempt from mandatory quarantine is available from the Government of Canada, here: www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/crtcl-nfrstrctr/esf-sfe-en.aspx

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3. Does the self-screening need to be done daily?

You must screen your child for symptoms every day before they come to school. You can use the Ministry of Health’s Ontario COVID-19 self-assessment tool for this purpose. If your child has any symptoms of COVID-19 or if they are ill, they should not attend school.

Anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms identified on the self-screen will need to be screened for COVID-19 by their health care provider or at a local assessment centre.  PRHC Assessment Centre offers testing seven days per week for residents with symptoms.  To book an appointment call 705-876-5086. For more information visit PPH’s COVID Testing webpage.

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4. What if my child does not pass the COVID-19 screening?

Follow these instructions if your child does not pass the screening tool: COVID Protocol – Child Did Not Pass Screening PPH-DHU-HKPR

Anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms identified on the self-screen will need to be screened for COVID-19 by their health care provider or at a local assessment centre.  PRHC Assessment Centre offers testing seven days per week for residents with symptoms.  To book an appointment call 705-876-5086. For more information visit PPH’s COVID Testing webpage.

5. Will my child have to physically distance at school?

Cohorting means keeping students together in a group throughout the school day, with limited exposure to multiple teachers or a wide variety of classmates. Physical distancing of 2 meters should be promoted as much as possible in each cohort at all times. Cohorts need to physically distance from other cohorts.

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6. Who is required to wear a face covering at school?

Students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear non-medical or cloth masks indoors in school, including in hallways and during classes. Outdoor times (like recess and other breaks) can be used as opportunities to provide students with breaks from wearing masks within their cohorts.

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

Students are encouraged to practice wearing masks and learn what type of mask is most comfortable for them. Students may wear their own non-medical masks, and non-medical masks will also be made available for students. Reasonable exceptions on the requirement to wear masks will apply. If you have any concerns, please speak with your school principal.

All school-based staff will be required to wear masks, with reasonable exceptions for medical conditions. Medical masks and eye protection (i.e. face shield) will be provided for all teachers and other staff of school boards.  School-based staff who are regularly in close contact with students will be provided with all appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

For more information on face coverings:

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7. Why face coverings are not required for students K to grade 3?

Face coverings for students up to grade 3 is not required but strongly recommended as outlined in the SickKids Guidance document. As well, facial covering use for younger children can be a challenge due to difficulties with proper fit and compliance. Younger children may not be able to avoid touching their mask, which may increase risk of COVID-19. It is recommended that these students be encouraged to wear facial coverings and follow other public health strategies that mitigate the risk of transmission of COVID-19, such as cohorting, covering coughs and sneezes and hand hygiene to reduce the risk of transmission.

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8. What is considered an outbreak at school?

An outbreak in a school is defined as two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students and/or staff in a school with an epidemiological link, within a 14-day period, where at least one case could have reasonably acquired their infection in the school (including transportation and/or before and after school care).

The local public health unit (PHU) will work with the school to determine epidemiological links (e.g., cases in the same class, cases that are part of the same before/after school care cohort, cases that have assigned bus seats in close proximity to each other). The PHU will determine which cohorts are high risk contacts requiring isolation and testing.

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9. Should I have my child tested for COVD-19 before they go back to school?

Testing your child before returning to school is generally not recommended if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms.

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10. What if a student shows symptoms at school?

Parents/guardians will be asked to pick up the child from school immediately. The student will be isolated in a separate room or kept at least two metres away from others.  If a student requires supervision or assistance a staff member will wear PPE and remain with them until they can be picked up. Kits with sanitizer, masks and other personal protective equipment will be provided for anyone who becomes ill at school, for use by the ill individual and the staff member attending to them.  Parents/guardians should ensure the school has their most up-to-date contact information.

While an individual suspected to have COVID-19 is waiting for test results they must be in isolation and cannot attend school in person. The individual can attend school virtually if they feel well enough to participate. Where a student or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, PPH will be in contact to provide further direction on returning to school. If there are other siblings or members of the household that attend school or childcare centres, advice of the public health unit should be followed on returning to school.

Individuals who have had a COVID-19 test because of symptoms, but who test negative should not return to school until at least 24 hours after their symptoms have resolved.

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11. What if there is a positive COVID-19 case at school?

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be contacted by Public Health and advised that they must self-isolate for 14 days from when their symptoms first started, or from date of swab (if no symptoms), and until clearance has been received from Public Health.

Public Health will conduct contact tracing and identify and follow up with all close contacts. To help with contact tracing, the school will provide Public Health with records including attendance, seating charts, bus cohorts, and any approved visitors to the school, including supply/occasional teachers or custodians.

Classroom cohorts (students and staff affiliated with the cohort) will generally be considered at high risk of exposure. All students and staff determined to be close contacts will receive recommendations on self-isolation and testing. A negative test result of a close contact of a case does not shorten their isolation period.

If someone from a school setting tests positive for COVID-19 and your child is not deemed to be a close contact, you do not need to have your child tested or keep them home.

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12. Does my child need to have a negative COVID-19 test result or a doctor’s note in order to return to school after recovering from COVID-19?

A child recovering from COVID19 may return to school as soon as they are discharged by a Public Health Nurse. A negative COVID19 test is not recommended for clearance.

Students/staff who test positive for COVID-19 will remain in isolation until these 3 conditions have been met:

1)  They have isolated for 14 days after the onset of symptoms

AND

2)  They no longer have a fever

AND

3)  Their symptoms have been improving for at least 72 hours

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13. What if a parent/guardian tests positive for COVID-19?

If a parent receives a positive test for COVID-19, they are not obligated to inform the school of their test result. However, it is strongly recommended. Children in a household where a parent or other member has tested positive should stay home and isolate as per public health guidance.

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14. What about eating and drinking at school?

Students should pack a lunch and a reusable water bottle each day. Water bottles will need to be filled rather than students drinking directly from the mouthpiece of water fountains. Students are encouraged to eat lunch in their classroom with their cohort, to reduce contact with students from other cohorts.  Students are not allowed to share food or drinks. If weather permits, lunch breaks may be held outside. More information on packing healthy and safe lunches can be found  HERE

All personal items brought to school should be labelled.

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15. What public health measures will there be on buses?

Active forms of travel (for example, walking and cycling) and private transportation by parents and caregivers, are encouraged where possible, to ease pressure on transportation demand.

To support return to school 5 days a week, school boards may be required to increase the utilization of buses beyond one student per seat and operate closer to capacity. To the extent that physical distancing may not be possible, the use of non-medical masks for students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required on school vehicles. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear masks on student transportation. Exceptions should be made for students with medical conditions or special needs that prevent masking. Students who live in the same household or are in the same classroom cohort will be seated together.

Other public health measures will include enhanced cleaning of high touch surfaces (for example, handrails and seatbacks) at least twice daily, and using loading/unloading procedures that support two metres physical distancing between students when possible.

16. What mental health supports are there?

Mental health and well-being are core elements of the school reopening plan. Find evidence-based information and resources relevant to your role at School Mental Health Ontario. Also visit PPH’s COVID-19 Positive Parenting Resources

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17. What if my child attends a private school or I home school?

Private Schools and Home schools are not regulated under the same guidance as publicly funded schools. If you have questions please contact us at 705-743-1000 or email covid19@peterboroughpublichealth.ca

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18. What can my family do to protect ourselves from COVID-19?

Here are a few things that you and your family can do:

  • wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • sneeze and cough into your sleeve
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • avoid contact with people who are sick
  • stay home and isolate if you or anyone in your household is sick

For more information on COVID-19 please visit Ontario.ca/coronavirus.

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19. If there is knowledge of a known illness as determined by a physician, ie. allergies.  Do we make allowances or do they go home too?

 A COVID-19 test is indicated for new or worsening symptoms. If a child presents with symptoms that are consistent with a known illness, testing would not be indicated. For an ill individual who has a known alternative diagnosis provided by a health care provider, return to school can occur when symptoms are resolved for at least 24 hours.

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20. Will it be mandatory for students to get a COVID-19 test if they have a COVID-19 symptom? Or will it just be recommended?

According to the newly released guidance documents, staff or students who become ill will be sent home immediately and advised to seek assessment from their health care provider or at a local Covid-19 Assessment Centre. Health care providers will determine if testing is recommended. If testing is recommended but refused, a 14-day self-isolation from symptom onset will be required.

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21. If students have a symptom and get tested for COVID-19, how long will results take?

This will depend on the capacity of the labs and how many tests they receive. Generally, results are back within 24-48 hours after the specimen arrives at the lab, however may take up to 2-6 business days, depending on capacity.

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22. If students have a symptom and get tested for COVID-19, must they wait for results to go back to school even if they feel fine again before results come back?

While an individual suspected to have COVID-19 is waiting for test results they must be in isolation and cannot attend school in person. The individual can attend school virtually if they feel well enough to participate. Where a student or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, the local PHU will be in contact with the school to provide further direction on returning to school.

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23. If students test negative for COVID-19, and have no known exposure to a COVID-19 case in the last 14 days, but still has a symptom, how long do they wait until going back to school?

Individuals who have had a COVID-19

test because of symptoms and has no know exposure to a COVID-19 case in the last 14 days, but who test negative should not return to school until at least 24 hours after their symptoms have resolved.

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24. Are school staff required to wear masks and face shields?

The Ministry of Education has directed that all staff in a school are required to wear medical masks while inside the school, including in hallways. PPH also recommends the wearing of eye protection (e.g. face shield) in addition to medical masks; it provides additional protection for staff, and it lessens the likelihood of a staff member needing to be off work in the event of exposure to a COVID-19 case. Reasonable exceptions to the requirement to wear masks will be put in place by school administrators.

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25. Where can I find more information?

For specific questions about returning to school please be sure to refer to the Guide to Reopening Ontario Schools website and your child’s school board FAQ website:

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Reopening Guidance Documents

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School Boards and Covid-19

Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board

Peterborough Victoria Northumberland & Clarington Catholic District School Board

Conseil Scolaire Catholique MonAvenir

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Other COVID-19 Resources for Children

Check out these kid-friendly resources to help prepare for back to school:

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