The top doctor in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit says he is confident in all of the back-to-school precautions and protocols that have been put in place ahead of the start of the school year.
Speaking on CTV Morning Live, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, the Medical Officer of Health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU), said he and his counterparts have been working with school boards all summer on ensuring the return to class is as safe as possible.
"I recognize that it's stressful and this is an unknown situation; however, we have reviewed all of the precautions," Dr. Roumeliotis said. "All of the precautions are in place to be able to safely allow children to go back to school. I'm reassured by the numbers. The active cases are low, which is a good sign."
The EOHU has had 180 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began, with one person in hospital currently, as of the most recent reporting. The EOHU frequently reports zero new cases daily.
Ottawa's daily case counts have been fluctuating but, overall, the number of active cases has been decreasing, from 250 at the start of August to 108 as of Aug. 17.
Dr. Roumeliotis says that as long as those numbers stay low, schools have a much better chance of keeping COVID out.
"We have to weigh the balance between keeping kids at home since March, and we know that, developmentally, that’s not good for particularly younger children, and balance that with their wellbeing at school," he said. "At this point in time, I think it will be very closely monitored and protected. The best thing we can do as parents and as a community is to keep doing what we're doing: wearing a mask, washing our hands, and not going to work or school when sick because that keeps the numbers down and that keeps everybody safe."
SYMPTOM SCREENING: WHEN TO KEEP KIDS HOME
School boards have put screening procedures in place, requiring parents or guardians to screen their children every day for COVID-19 symptoms before sending them to class. If a child does not pass the screening, they must remain home.
However, what about common childhood issues like sniffles, or other problems like asthma?
Dr. Roumeliotis says those things are built into the screening process.
"In the screening that the parents will do, there is a section that says, 'Are these symptoms normal or are they new?' Then we go down into what do you have, like rhinitis or asthma. Those types of things we will be screening for," he said. "As long as the parents recognize that the symptoms are typical for their asthma or whatever their chronic problem is, it's fine. The school will accept that and we've built that into the screening process."
However, Dr. Roumeliotis recommends parents inform their child's school and teachers as soon as possible about chronic issues.
"The school should be made aware of any chronic condition a child has and be made aware of what the symptoms are," he said. "If everybody's reassured that these are part of a child's usual symptoms, then it's no problem. If something new comes up, then it's a different story."
IS THE SCHOOL BUS SAFE?
School bus transportation authorities have said the plans are under review but currently include full school buses, with children sitting in assigned seats with their siblings or a classmate.
Dr. Roumeliotis says, since masks are mandatory on the bus for most children and recommended for younger ones, the bus trip should not pose a greater risk.
"If you wear a mask, and it's the same cohort all the time, I believe that it is safe," he said. "It's no different from going on public transit. Everyone needs to wear a mask because you can't maintain that physical distance. We're also going to be making sure that the kids are not sick anyway, so they're not going to be coming to school in the first place and if a child develops symptoms while at school, they're not going to be sent home by bus."