Staff with the Northwestern Health Unit are continuing to work alongside local school boards to ensure that students and staff stay as healthy as possible this year, and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

As most students are set to return to their classrooms on September 3, with some grades starting on later days due to school boards using staggered start schedules, the health unit says they will continue to work alongside school leadership throughout the year on keeping schools as safe as possible.

“Our schools are working very diligently right now to ensure that they have their policies, protocols and plans in place to keep students safe,” says Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kit Young Hoon.

“We’re trying to focus in on key public health measures of screening, physical distancing and hand hygiene, virtual learning and encouraging more outdoor class time. It’s definitely a challenging situation. Teaching in general has a lot of challenges as it is, and now there’s additional challenges.”

“Everyone’s trying to best navigate the COVID-19 situation in the best way that they can. It will be an ongoing challenge for students, but our school boards are really being innovative and thinking outside of the box.”

Measures in place to protect students and staff include:

- Screening of ensure children and staff who show signs of illness do not enter the school,
- Prompt isolation of ill children and staff,
- Physical distancing to the extent possible,
- Enhanced cleaning measures,
- Student cohorts, keeping student groups together, as much as possible,
- The use of face coverings for most students, Grade 4 and up, as well as staff.

Masks will be required for all Grade 4 to Grade 12 students, and they are encouraged for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students. Face shields are not a viable substitute, as they do not offer the same level of protection as a face mask.

Schools will be sending COVID-19 self-assessment checklists home with students along with reminders, and schools are asking parents to conduct the screening. Students who are visibly ill will be sent home.

Schools will immediately notify the parents and guardians if their child becomes ill, and the need for emergency contact is vital. The class of the ill child or staff member may be closed until cleaning takes place.

In that situation, the class would be relocated to another area in the building. Students or staff members who test positive will not be able to return to school until they clear the Northwestern Health Unit’s guidelines and isolation.

Schools will also have a protocol where if they’re notified that a staff member or student has become ill overnight, the school needs to be notified so they can clean the areas where the person was, before becoming ill.

If another student in your student’s classroom becomes ill, the health unit may notify other parents, based on if there is significant concern. If there is contact tracing required, you will be contacted directly by health unit staff.

If another student in your child’s cohort are positive for COVID-19 and your student is required to self-isolate by the health unit, students will be supported through access to remote-learning tools.

Every school will have a designated room where the ill student can be separated from other staff and students until they’re able to go home, they will be supervised at a two metre distance and staff will wear personal protective equipment.

The health unit adds they will continue to provide school health programs this school year, and will modify them if necessary. Services offered will include routine immunizations, oral health screening and preventative treatment, sexual health clinics and nutrition programs.

Health unit staff remind the public to always assume COVID-19 is spreading within your community, and to always practice prevention measures such as social distancing, frequent hand washing, limiting social contacts and wearing a mask in all enclosed public spaces.

For more information:
Kenora Catholic explains protocols for sick students
What happens if COVID-19 is found in local schools?