When should I keep my child home from school? Your top COVID-19 questions answered

Schools across Ontario will begin to resume in-person learning this week as the province works to curb the spread of COVID-19 amid a fourth wave of the pandemic. But as parents prepare to send their kids to class, they may have questions about how the disease is going to be dealt with in the classroom. When will they need to keep their child home from school? What happens if they have a runny nose? What if a sibling who goes to another school contracts COVID-19?

Here are the answers to your top questions:

What do I need to do before I send my child to school?

Every day youth or parents of younger children will need to fill out a self-screening form prior to entering school. This will involve checking to make sure the student does not have a fever (with a temperature greater than 37.8 C) or chills, a cough, difficulty breathing, a decrease or loss of taste and/or smell, and nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

The self-screening must either be provided to a school official verbally, in paper form or parents can use an app to submit their answers.

Information on how to submit the self-screening in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as other COVID-19 protocols being used in the classroom, can be found here:

Toronto District School Board (TDSB)

York Region District School Board

Peel District School Board

Durham District School Board

Halton District School Board

The TDSB also released checklists for elementary and secondary students to ensure they have everything they need—numerous masks, a water bottle, lunch, and individual school supplies to avoid sharing. Parents are also being asked to review hand hygiene and physical distancing guidelines with their children.

What happens if my child has a symptom of COVID-19?

If a student answers yes to having one of the five symptoms in the self-screening form, they are asked to stay home from school, get a COVID-19 test and self-isolate until the results are available. Schools should be notified if a child is getting a test and remaining at home.

While symptoms such as runny noses, sore throats and headaches were removed from the provincial list of COVID-19 symptoms last month, parents are still being asked to keep their kids home from school or daycare if they are unwell in any way.

The provincial screening tool provides parents and students with a list of places where they can get a COVID-19 test depending on their answers to the questionnaire. It also provides a brief rundown of what each result means for household members.

The Ontario government is planning to launch a pilot program for at-home COVID-19 testing for students and staff at select schools throughout the month of September and October. The province has yet to release a list of schools participating.

So your child needs to get a COVID-19 test? What does that mean for other household members?

The child must self-isolate while they wait for their results, however any asymptomatic, vaccinated household members do not. This includes siblings who may be in a different class or school.

However, if those household members are not fully vaccinated with two doses—14 days prior to potential exposure—they must also remain at home until the child has their results or has been cleared by a public health unit.

What happens if I don’t want my child to get a COVID-19 test?

If a student does not get a COVID-19 test they must self-isolate for at least 10 days. At that point, if their symptoms have improved, they can return to school.

The same rules apply for household members who are not fully vaccinated.

The self-isolation can be lifted if a health-care provider diagnoses a condition that isn’t related to COVID-19. At that point, the student can return 24 hours after their symptoms can improve.

My child tests negative. What now?

If your child tests negative for COVID-19 they must remain at home until at least 24 hours after their symptoms begin improving. The time limit increases to 48 hours if the child experienced nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

What happens if a child tests positive for COVID-19?

The student must self-isolate for 10 days starting from when the symptoms started. They may return after the self-isolation period even if someone else in their household develops symptoms.

Household members and close contacts who are not fully vaccinated must also self-isolate and get a COVID-19 test.

Fully vaccinated household members who are asymptomatic are not required to self-isolate. However, if they develop symptoms they should remain at home and take a COVID-19 test.

What happens if my child is considered a close contact of a COVID-19 cases?

The general rule is this: If the student is a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case, but is fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, they do not have to self-isolate or stay home from school. However, public health officials do recommend still getting a COVID-19 test as a precaution. The close contact does not need to isolate while they wait for the results.

According to the provincial guidelines, those who are not fully immunized and were exposed as a high-risk contact must isolate for 10 days, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms.

Regardless of vaccination status, if a close contact begins to develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should take a test.

What happens if my child tested positive for COVID-19 within 90 days of another exposure?

The government has said that those who have tested positive for COVID-19 within a 90-day period and have been cleared of their initial infection can follow the same rules for fully vaccinated individuals. However, they also warn that while the risk of transmission is low, it does not mean re-infection is not possible, especially considering the emergence of variants of concern.

At what point will a class or school be dismissed?

An outbreak is defined as two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 infections among students, teachers, staff or visitors, where at least one of the cases could have reasonably been acquired at the school or child-care facility.

There is no threshold for when to dismiss a class or close a school as a result of an outbreak. Instead, public health units are expected to make each determination on a case-by-case basis. The investigation will include whether students and staff within a cohort are fully vaccinated.