Runny nose alone won’t keep students home from school in Mississauga, Brampton, Ontario

Published July 22, 2021 at 11:16 am

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The runny nose will likely retain its power to turn school days and work schedules upside down in September, but Ontario’s science advisers are envisioning fewer disruptions the lower the COVID-19 risk becomes.

Earlier this year, amid the rising third wave, the province said a student had to stay home if anyone in the household had a symptom. Science advisers are suggesting those policies should be updated.

“What is important is just to find this sweet spot between really making sure that we don’t have uncontrolled outbreaks in schools, but on the other hand just also making sure that we don’t generate a lot of unnecessary disruption,” said Dr. Peter Juni, a member of the science table, which advises the province on COVID-19.

“(For) a potential exposure to a fully vaccinated individual…would we really still have the same approach that we’ve had for an unvaccinated individual? No, we start to pivot the strategy.”

The science table issued recommendations earlier this week for schools, urging that they be closed only in the most catastrophic situations. The experts also recommended loosening restrictions in areas such as masking, but only when the risk is low – a place, they emphasize, the province is not yet in.

Among the recommendations are updates to screening and exclusion policies – what to do when someone has any symptom of COVID-19.

In both the low- and moderate-risk scenarios, the experts are recommending that fully vaccinated people wouldn’t have to stay home from school if they were exposed to a COVID-19 case. Ontario is currently offering vaccines to anyone aged 12 and older.

Those scenarios also contemplate dropping the requirement for students to stay home if anyone in their household has a symptom. It would mean kids could still go to school if their sibling had a fever or their father had a stuffed-up nose. Even in the high-risk situation, they recommend not needing to keep students home if the family member with a symptom is fully vaccinated.

Public health units say they are eagerly awaiting updated guidance from the province on screening, among other measures, ahead of the fall.

The government has said that requirements on masking, hand hygiene and screening will be among its back-to-school plan that’s expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Juni said the hope is that one day, perhaps when Ontario has 90 per cent vaccine coverage, with low case counts and low risk, “a runny nose of a child does not disrupt the daily realities of school.”

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