A guide to COVID-19 school outbreak protocols across Canada

Canada·New

In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in schools, each province and territory has assembled protocols for case management and mitigation measures. CBC News gives a brief breakdown of what you need to know in each region.

While the definition of 'outbreak' varies in provinces and territories across Canada, plans are in place throughout the country outlining how public health authorities will help schools manage an outbreak of COVID-19. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Students from kindergarten to Grade 12 across Canada have been back in class for a few weeks now — but that doesn't mean a complete return to normal, as some schools report COVID-19 outbreaks among students and staff.

While every province and territory defines the term "outbreak" differently, all have released plans that outline how public health officials will help schools manage an outbreak on a case-by-case basis.

"There needs to be school-by-school decisions that are made based on the information that is available," said Dr. Jesse Papenburg, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children's Hospital.

Papenburg said that the timing of cases, the age of affected individuals and the location and the nature of exposure between students are all factors to be considered when developing outbreak and case management protocols.

"That differs from one school to the next — it really does."

CBC News has compiled school outbreak protocols from each of the provinces and territories.

Yukon

If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they will be required to self-isolate. Yukon Communicable Disease Control will discuss contact tracing with the school principal. In consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, they will launch an investigation to determine close contacts and may suggest further measures. Students who develop symptoms of COVID-19 at school will be separated from others in a designated area or room.

LISTEN |

Read more here and here.

Northwest Territories

Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife is shown on Aug. 28, 2020. In the Northwest Territories, schools affected by an outbreak will switch to virtual learning until in-person learning is determined to be safe.(Graham Shishkov/CBC)

The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer will declare the start and end of an outbreak. Subsequent measures could include a class, grade or school closure to prevent transmission and allow for contact tracing and testing. Parents will be notified of an outbreak and it will be communicated to parents if their child is a close contact of a positive case. An affected school will switch to virtual learning until it is determined that in-person learning is safe.

Schools will have an isolation room for students who show symptoms of COVID-19 on-site and a health-care professional will determine when symptomatic students can return to school.

Read more here and here.

Nunavut

Nunavut has outlined plans for symptomatic cases, probable cases and confirmed cases.

In the event of a confirmed case, public health officials will work alongside the Department of Education and the affected school to identify high-risk students and instruct them on the next steps and expectations for self-monitoring or self-isolation. Public health authorities will also lend support to schools while they conduct contact tracing. Schools will notify parents and guardians based on guidance from public health authorities. Any other information in the public interest will be amplified by local radio stations.

Read more here.

British Columbia

Students arrive at Chaffey-Burke Elementary School on the first day of a new school year in Burnaby, B.C., on Sept. 7, 2021.(Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

If an individual who tested positive attended school while they were potentially infectious, the school administrator will be notified. Public health officials will work alongside the school to conduct contact tracing and notify close contacts of the individual who tested positive. They may recommend self-isolation or self-monitoring.

The province has also set up six rapid response teams that can work with schools experiencing an outbreak and make further recommendations based on the situation. In general, public health officials will send notifications to the school community with steps for outbreak management, should one occur.

Read more here.

Alberta

Alberta Health Services (AHS) may declare an outbreak if 10 per cent of absences can be attributed to the same illness. In the event of an outbreak, a medical officer may recommend additional safety measures to schools. This could include the implementation of daily health screenings, increased disinfection, mask recommendations, limited activities and cohorting.

AHS will monitor ongoing outbreaks closely and will instruct schools on how to communicate with parents and guardians. AHS is also encouraging schools to have their own plans in place, including sending staff or students with symptoms home, having them wear a mask and choosing a designated isolation room where symptomatic individuals can wait until they are picked up.

Read more here and here.

Saskatchewan

In case of an outbreak, public health authorities will notify the school and advise the administration on how to communicate the outbreak to the school community. Those communiqués will include information on self-monitoring, testing and vaccination. A medical health officer may order a school to impose measures that will help mitigate the spread of transmission.

If a student is identified as a close contact of the individual who tested positive, different protocols are to be followed based on whether or not they are symptomatic.

Read more here.

Manitoba

When a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, school officials are directed to collect relevant information from that individual and determine if contact tracing is necessary. If there was potential in-school exposure, Manitoba's Department of Education must be alerted and school officials should reinforce and review existing safety protocols.

If contact tracing proceeds, close contacts must be identified and will possibly be directed to self-isolate. All information collected should be sent to public health officials, who will conduct their own investigation to determine next steps. Schools that are experiencing an outbreak may require a class or cohort to learn remotely or undergo a 10-day period of self-isolation if in-school transmission is suspected.

Read more here.

Ontario

Students line up to register before entering Franco-Cité Catholic High School in Ottawa on their first day back to school on Aug. 31, 2021. In Ontario, public health officials may suggest a full or partial school dismissal in the event of an outbreak.(Francis Ferland/CBC/Radio-Canada)

If public health authorities determine that an outbreak is underway, they will provide guidance to the school on how to best manage the situation. They may also suggest whether self-isolation or a full or partial dismissal of students is necessary based on the size of the outbreak.

Public health officials may recommend a number of outbreak measures to the affected school. This includes restricting outside visitors from entering the school, minimizing student and staff movement between cohorts, reinforcing masking and daily health screenings and increasing the accessibility of COVID-19 testing and vaccination for the school community.

Read more here.

Quebec

When a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, Quebec's public health department recommends contact tracing to determine whether others in the affected school setting have been exposed. Public health officials will make a risk assessment based on the number of people exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 and the vaccination rates among case contacts.

For managing COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated people, they recommend an isolation period of 10 days following the onset of symptoms. Unvaccinated close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case must self-monitor for 14 days. Class and cohort contacts may be told to get tested.

Read more here (this document is available in French only).

Newfoundland and Labrador

In the event of an outbreak at a school, public health officials will work with the school district to determine the next steps, potentially implementing additional health measures like increasing the frequency of cleaning, cohorting, recommending masks and limiting extracurriculars.

Public health officials will conduct contact tracing and if they suspect widespread transmission, they may recommend school- or cohort-wide testing. Movement of staff and students between cohorts may be limited. Further steps will be communicated to parents and staff in consultation with public health officials.

Read more here.

New Brunswick

In New Brunswick, schools may close or switch to virtual learning for a day to allow for contact tracing after an outbreak.(Gary Moore)

If a student tests positive, regional public health authorities will work with schools to conduct a risk assessment. To allow for contact tracing, schools may close or switch to virtual learning for a day or longer if needed. Close contacts of the positive case will be asked to stay home. Schools may also be asked to limit contact between students in classrooms and hallways, and restrict assemblies and extracurriculars if needed. Public health officials will monitor anyone who was asked to self-isolate.

The guidelines outline the roles of the public health department, school districts administration, teaching staff, cleaning staff and bus drivers in case of an outbreak.

Read more here.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Public Health released a six-step plan in case of an outbreak in school and childcare settings.

When alerted of a potential COVID-19 case, it will investigate to determine if the virus has spread. If it has, the school is alerted and Public Health may recommend increased safety measures or school closure on a case-by-case basis. They will notify the staff and parent community and identify close contacts of the COVID-positive individual. Schools are being asked to maintain attendance records to assist with contact tracing by Public Health.

Read more here.

Prince Edward Island

A classroom at Bloomfield Elementary School in Prince Edward Island shows various public health measures, including physically distanced desks, hand sanitizer and a face mask, on Aug. 11, 2020.(Jane Robertson/CBC)

Public health officials will identify positive cases and conduct contact tracing for anyone potentially exposed to a positive case. The Chief Public Health Office will work alongside school administration to determine whether further health measures are needed to stop transmission. This could include moving to virtual learning. The school will communicate positive cases of COVID-19 to the parent community. Schools are also asked to take consistent attendance and maintain class and bus lists in case contract tracing is needed.

LISTEN |

Read more here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jenna Benchetrit is a senior writer for CBC News entertainment and education. She can be reached at jenna.benchetrit@cbc.ca.

    With files from Jessica Wong

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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