covid-19 masks students

What you need to know about COVID-19 as families prepare for back-to-school

Ontarians who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be required to isolate themselves for five days but are being advised to stay at home until their symptoms have improved, for at least 24 hours.

The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr Kieran Moore, made the recommendations in a press briefing on Wednesday, as part of public health guidance updates to manage COVID-19 this fall. Other key highlights of today’s announcement include:

  • If you are in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, continue to self-monitor for symptoms. There is no longer a need to isolate but you should wear a mask for 10 days when in public.
  • If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, cough, or runny nose, stay home from school, work and social events until your fever is gone and symptoms are improving, get a rapid antigen test or, if eligible, a PCR test. Wear a mask for 10 days after and avoid non-essential visits to high-risk individuals and settings.

Moore’s announcement has mixed reactions across social media, with some worried that the COVID-19 isolation drop will lead to more cases (particularly to vulnerable immunocompromised people) once the school year resumes.

Students are just one week away from returning to class, and according to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), fewer students are registered for virtual learning for the upcoming 2022–2023 school year compared to last year.

Approximately 3,300 elementary students opted in for online learning this fall (compared to 17,000 in the 2021 –2022 school year). For high school students, only 1,500 secondary students registered for online (compared to approximately 8,000 secondary students in the previous year).

As for health and safety guidelines, the TDSB noted on their website that it will continue to follow the health and safety directions provided by the Ministry of Education and Toronto Public Health to manage COVID-19, including encouraging students and staff to conduct daily self-assessments before entering school or Board buildings; masks (masks aren’t mandatory, but the Toronto Public Health is recommending wearing masks, especially in indoor public settings); testing  (rapid antigen test kits will continue to be available to both staff and students upon request); ventilation (more than 16,000 institutional-grade HEPA filters are in the TDSB with at least one in every occupied classroom); enhanced cleaning; and vaccines  (the TDSB will with Toronto Public Health to support their vaccination efforts).

The provincial government also announced today that they are expanding eligibility for COVID-19 first booster doses to children aged five to 11, as of Sept. 1, prior to the new school year. Eligible children can receive their first booster dose at a recommended interval of at least six months following their most recent dose.

In anticipation of the approval of a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine (which is expected to offer more targeted protection against the Omicron variants), the province is working with public health units and sector partners to make sure doses are ready to be administered once supply is received from the federal government.

“I strongly encourage all Ontarians to take advantage of vaccine and booster doses that are recommended and available to them, which now includes the availability of a booster dose for children aged five to 11,” Moore said in a statement on Wednesday. “Ontarians are also encouraged to protect one another by respecting public health guidance, including staying home and taking precautions if you are sick.”

The province is also recommending that high-risk individuals (e.g., those 60 and over, First Nation, Inuit and Métis individuals and their non-Indigenous household members aged 18 and over, residents of long-term care/retirement homes, and individuals who are moderate to severely immunocompromised) get their second booster as soon as possible.  Ontarians aged 12 and over who are immunocompromised are recommended to receive their second booster at an interval of six months since their first booster, while those 18 and over are eligible for their second booster dose at a recommended interval of five months since their first booster dose.

Click here for more COVID-19 Ontario updates.