By ALAN SHACKLETON
Doctors at Michael Garron Hospital are helping local schools with COVID-19 prevention preparations as they get set to welcome students back to class next week.
The East York hospital and doctors with the East Toronto Family Practice Network are answering the questions of school administrators, teachers and parents as the return to school begins next week in Toronto.
Students in the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) begin staggered starts on Monday, Sept. 14, while the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) will see its students begin returning to classrooms as of Sept. 15.
Doctors from both the hospital’s Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) team and the family practice network have been available to answer questions in a number of ways including online town hall meetings with school administrations.
Dr. Janine McCready, an infectious diseases specialist at Michael Garron Hospital, said the group has met with representatives from more than 70 schools in the East Toronto area.
“We established a goal of meeting with individual principals, and some invited their vice-principals or the persons responsible for co-ordinating COVID plans,” said McCready of the virtual town hall meetings in a recent interview with Beach Metro News.
“Teachers could also send their questions which the principals asked on their behalf. There were lots of questions,” she said.
The key question asked was can students return to school in a way that keeps them, their families and school staff safe. McCready said the answer is yes, but everybody has to do their part in making that happen.
“We have to realize that everybody needs to be on the same page on this. We want to do it as safely as possible,” she said. “Everybody is understandably a bit apprehensive, but we’re optimistic we can do this safely.”
McCready said parents, teachers and students all need to be doing their part to follow safety protocols once school begins again.
“We do have the potential for a safe opening of schools,” she said. “There are lots of jurisdictions around the world that have opened schools safely…It is possible to have a safe opening for everyone, students, teachers and extended families. But it takes everyone to be working hard on it.”
Parental involvement and vigilance will be an extremely important part of stopping the spread of COVID-19, said McCready.
“Don’t send your kids to school if they or someone in your house has symptoms. Go and get tested if you have symptoms,” she said.
The public health system also has a role to play as it needs to be aware if lots of students are showing up in class with runny noses and coughs. “If we’re seeing a lot of coughs and colds in the schools in the second week of classes, we’ll have to be aware of that,” said McCready.
She said screening for sick children is one of the roles school boards, and especially classroom teachers, can take the lead on.
“Once teachers get to know their kids they can tell if they are unwell. They cannot be relying on the kids themselves; it’s about knowing the kids and following up on concerns.”
Teachers are being trained on what to look for and also on the safety protocols to stop the spread of COVID-19 such as physical distancing, hand hygiene and the wearing of masks.
McCready said the idea of school staff taking the temperature of students before they enter the building is would not be “helpful.”
“Ask them how they are all feeling. Does anybody have a cough or a cold or is anybody in the family sick,” said McCready of the ways teachers can check on the health of their students.
Schools, though, are part of the larger community and they will be reflective of what the COVID-19 numbers are across the city.
“I think what’s important is to be watching the numbers of community transmission,” she said. “Community transmission levels are on all of us.”
If those numbers start going up, health care will have to act quickly. On Friday, Sept. 11, Ontario reported 213 new cases of COVID-19, with 71 of them in Toronto. The provincial number is the highest since June 23, and came during a week which saw a rise in the number of daily new cases reported after those numbers had been dropping through most of the summer.
McCready said it’s important all residents continue to work hard to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. A lot of work and time has been invested by people to stop the spread “so don’t be thinking that because it’s safe for kids to go back to school, you can start going out and exposing yourself to different groups of people,” she said.
A parent of a child who will be attending class in a TDSB school next week, McCready said she is confident the return to school can take place safely provided everybody does their part.
The hospital and the EasT-FPN will also monitoring cases of COVID-19 in East Toronto to try to keep ahead of any localized outbreaks and situations that could lead to a large number of people being infected. This will include launching mobile COVID-19 testing sites for neighbourhoods and school communities in areas where there is a need, said a press release from the hospital.
For more information on the ways Michael Garron Hospital’s IPAC team and the EasT-FPN are playing supporting a safe return to school, and for answer more questions on how this can be done, please visit https://www.tehn.ca/about-us/newsroom/it-safe-send-my-child-back-school-sarah-downey-asks-dr-janine-mccready-5