'Surgical mask over cloth mask'; London, Ont. nurse suggests higher protection for unvaccinated children heading back to school

Public health officials in California say an unvaccinated elementary school teacher who took off their mask to read to students ended up infecting more than half of them. (Narongchai Hlawprasert/Adobe Stock Photo/CNN)

Thousands of families in Southwestern Ontario are enjoying one last day off before heading back to school.

However, come Tuesday with a fourth wave of COVID-19 on the horizon, anxiety for some parents will kick in.

"I'm very nervous about my son going back to in-person after a year of online," says Jessica Fediw, whose son with illness induced epilepsy, is going into grade seven at Pierre Elliot Trudeau French Immersion Public School in St. Thomas, Ont.

"Especially with not everyone vaccinated, not being able to socially distance in classrooms.”

Deb Hardy has two grandchildren entering kindergarten after they were homeschooled last year.

"My daughters are both very anxious," says Hardy.

"With what's being batted around about possibly closing school down again in October, it just seems as if the school year is once again up in the air.”

However not everyone is feeling the same way.

"I feel ok, says Reza Sands, who has two kids in elementary school in London, Ont. and one in high school.

"It's not like last year. I think it's getting better after vaccinations, and we are feeling more comfortable.”

During the pandemic, associate professor of Nursing at Western University Abe Oudshoorn has been using social media and trying to translate messages surrounding COVID-19 and vaccines in a clear and simple way for the general public.

"I think parents are all watching what's happening really closely right now they're seeing that the cases are going back up, and they're hearing messaging from the health unit that cases amongst children are anticipated to occur," says Oudshoorn, who has three children over twelve who have been vaccinated.

"They're naturally worried, they're worried about safety of their kids".

Oudshoorn has been communicating online with a number of parents, and telling them that generally schools are a safe option.

He feels most of what happens in schools is out of parents control, however the choice of masking can help with protection.

"There's some pretty clear evidence around degrees of efficacy amongst different mask types,” says Oudshoorn.

"We know all masks are good compared to the alternative of being unmasked. Cloth masks and bandanas protect us to some extent, from a droplet disease. However, we also know that surgical masks provide better protection than cloth masks. Dual layer cloth masks provide better protection than single layer and dual layer cloth masks with the filter in between, provide better than that."

He has been advising parents of unvaccinated children to get a surgical mask, which are available in pediatric size.

Those can be purchased online, at medical or dental supply stores or most pharmacies.

"The downside is it's a disposable mask so it increases the waste, but for this period of time where we know Delta is going to be circulating amongst kids,” says Oudshoorn. “I would take the higher protection of a surgical mask over a simple washable cloth mask at this point in time.”

As school resumes it's not just COVID-19 safety warnings being issued. The OPP posted a video to social media reminding drivers that students haven't been on a school bus since mid-April.

"It's up to everybody to be paying attention for parents to have those conversations with their kids, to pay attention, be aware, know what the rules are," Const. Jillian Johnson, of the Perth County OPP said in her message.

"Be aware they can cross the street, when to board the bus, they need to pay attention to the rules of the bus driver.  Pay attention to the crossing guards, whoever's in charge, and wait until their way is safe before they, they board the bus.  Keep an eye on cars that are coming, and really understanding what the risks are because right now they're just thinking about getting back in the classroom with their friends.”

She also reminded drivers to build in extra time to their commute and expect delays with buses on the roads. She added that you should not pass a bus, especially on the shoulders of the road.

School starts tomorrow morning for most students. Are you ready? Are THEY ready? Here's Constable Jillian Johnson with some tips to keep everyone safe as school buses return to our roads. ^dr pic.twitter.com/5uJYI0aj7z

— OPP West Region (@OPP_WR) September 6, 2021