A group of experts led by SickKids, a hospital for sick children in Toronto, have developed and released a set of guidelines that consider the range of students’ ages and development levels. (iStock/Mirjana Ristic)

Medical experts in Ontario release guidelines for reopening schools

A group of experts led by SickKids, a hospital for sick children in Toronto, have developed and released a set of guidelines for reopening of schools in Ontario this September amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidelines, which were released in a document on Wednesday, builds on a set of recommendations made by SickKids, Unity Health Toronto, and several experts from a variety of disciplines last month. 

“As leaders in children’s health, our most important opportunity at this moment is the careful planning of a safe, successful return to daily school,” Dr. Ronald Cohn, the president and chief executive officer of SickKids, and co-author of the document, said in a press release. “With this document, we have endeavoured to provide helpful considerations for educators, school boards and administrators, parents, and students, as they chart the course for returning to the classroom.” 

According to a press release, the document recommends health and safety measures that consider the range of students’ ages and development levels. 

In order to respect physical distancing guidelines when students are in the classroom, the document recommends making an effort to arrange the furniture to leave as much space as possible between students. The document notes that smaller class sizes should be prioritized to make physical distancing easier, and reduce any potential spread of the virus. 

In terms of wearing masks, the document said that current evidence does not provide an optimal approach and needs to consider the range of student ages and development levels. 

Based on current health guidelines, the document recommends the use of masks for high school students, with consideration for middle school students, when physical distancing cannot be maintained. 

The document also recommends staggering lunches and recess breaks to reduce large crowds in the cafeteria, cancelling all large gatherings and assemblies, having a regular cleaning schedule, and teaching students the importance of hand hygiene.

The press release states that the authors of the document also cautioned that the document and its recommendations may need to be updated as research of COVID-19 evolves.

The document was a group effort involving several medical experts from SickKids, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Kingston Health Sciences Centre, Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre, McMaster Children’s Hospital and Unity Health. 

“This document brings together current evidence that can be used in local communities throughout the province to get kids back into schools,” Dr. Lindy Samson, the chief of staff and infectious diseases physician, at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and co-author of the document, said. 

“It provides a foundation to guide important conversations that should now occur between policy-makers, local school boards, educators, public health units and, if called upon, other health experts.” 

Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce is expected to announce the plans to reopen schools province sometime this week. 

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