Ontario’s largest pediatric hospitals say children need to be back learning in classrooms as soon as possible, but emphasize that it can only happen with strong infection-control strategies and robust testing in schools.
A report released on Thursday, led by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, updated its guidance to the provincial government on how to reopen schools safely.
“The current school closures need to be as time-limited as possible. It is therefore imperative that bundled measures of infection prevention and control and a robust testing strategy are in place,” said Ronald Cohn, president of SickKids.
The Ontario government has closed schools to in-person learning in the southern part of the province, setting it apart from the rest of the country. Schools in Toronto, York Region, Peel Region, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex won’t open until Feb. 10, the government has said.
The guidance document said that public health officials have to balance the risk of infection and transmission in children, educators and the community with the harms school closures cause to children’s physical health, development, mental health and learning.
Almost a year into the pandemic, there is still no conclusive evidence regarding transmission in schools and to what extent children drive the spread of the virus. What is clear is that when children contract COVID-19, they don’t tend to get seriously ill.
“Based on the available evidence, it is our view that the adverse impacts of school closure on children and youth are such that school closures should be a last resort,” the report stated.
The document makes specific recommendations around testing in schools, including that asymptomatic children who have been exposed to a student or staff with a COVID-19 infection should be tested. Further, it stated that while a nasopharyngeal swab is preferred, alternates, including a saliva swab, should be considered.
Mobile testing teams should be set up with schools so that children and staff have timely access to testing, the report recommended.
The report also said that routine testing of asymptomatic students, prior to entering the school, is a strategy that could be considered. “However, it is not currently recommended or feasible with the available testing options. This recommendation should be re-evaluated as new tests become available taking into consideration test availability, properties and testing priorities,” it stated.
– More to come
This article first published here www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ontario-pediatric-hospitals-says-children-should-return-to-in-class/