School COVID-19 symptoms list curtailed

Premier Doug Ford during a Sept. 24 media conference. YouTube

ONTARIO — No longer is a runny nose alone, or a headache alone, enough to keep an Ontario child out of the classroom.

The province today shortened the list of ailments that children can’t have while at school or daycare, issuing updated COVID-19 screening guidance developed in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Under its revised tool screening tool, students and children are still advised to stay home if they have a fever or cough. Other symptoms must be found in combination for a child to be inadmissible to school.

Ontario parents took notice when the B.C. led the way with similar changes last week — while this province’s assessment centres remained clogged with students requiring tests under the more aggressive prior list. While a child with a runny nose could be withdrawn from school for the requisite two-week isolation period, that’s not an option for working parents who sought testing instead, often lining up early in the morning at overburdened assessment centres.

The province says that school and child care screening guidance is being updated with two sets of questions about symptoms and information to help parents make “informed decisions about whether their children should attend school or child care, need to consult a health care provider, or get tested for COVID-19.” The guidance can be found immediately at the COVID-19 Screening Tool for Children in School and Child Care, and the refreshed online tool will launch tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 2 for download.

“Ensuring that children can attend school with minimal interruption is an important part of their healthy growth and development,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “Based on a review of the current evidence and consulting with paediatric infectious diseases experts, we are updating the list of symptoms in the COVID-19 screening tool for schools and child care to ensure that our children receive the education and care that they need while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

The first set of questions asks about symptoms such as fever or cough. Students and children with any of these symptoms will still be advised to stay home until they are able to consult with a health care provider and receive an alternative diagnosis or a negative COVID-19 test.

The second set of questions asks about other symptoms that are commonly associated with other illnesses, such as a runny nose or headache:

  • Students and children with only one of these symptoms will be advised to stay home for 24 hours, after which they can return to school or child care if their symptoms are improving.
  • Students and children with two or more of these symptoms will be advised to stay home until they are able to consult with a health care provider and receive an alternative diagnosis or a negative COVID-19 test.

In addition, abdominal pain and conjunctivitis (pink eye) have been cut from the list altogether.

Below, Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health addresses the curtailed symptoms list in the first 10 minutes of today’s regular media briefing.

“Thankfully the government today changed the approach,” observed Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, “and made it a bit more lax as to what needs to be considered as Covid.”

Roumeliotis pointed out that children mostly display cough and/or fever when actually infected with the virus — either one of which should keep a child home from school.

However, sore throat, stuffy or runny noise, headache, nausea and a number of other symptoms are now OK if present individually.

The doctor also revealed that schools and daycares have never been required to demand proof of a negative test but should take the parents’ word of same. He said he trusts parents to be truthful on the matter.

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