Ontario should close schools as a “last resort”: SickKids

The hospital's updated COVID-19 guidance notes that last year's lockdown had a “significant negative impact” on children's health

SickKids hospital has strongly recommended a return to in-person learning in updated COVID-19 guidelines for Ontario schools.

In a document released on January 21, the experts stated that closing schools should be a “last resort” considering the “significant negative impact” impacts school closures had on children and youth during lockdowns in 2020.

Public health measures including lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, self-isolation and school closures have had significant adverse consequences for children and youth in particular, the report states.

Those impacts include decreased vaccination coverage, delayed diagnosis and care for medical conditions and adverse impact on their physical and mental health and social development.

“There continues to be strong evidence that the majority of children and youth who become infected with SARS-CoV-2 are either asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms, such as cough, nasal congestion, runny nose, fever and sore throat,” the report stated.

Data showed that as of January 17, 16.1 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Canada were in individuals 19 years of age and under.

The document’s updated guidelines for increased risk mitigation so that schools can return to in-person learning include:

  • increased testing of symptomatic staff and students, possibly using rapid molecular tests as well
  • testing of asymptomatic children with a known school exposure to a confirmed case
  • cohorting for kindergarten and younger elementary school children instead of physical distancing due to importance of socializing with others for child development
  • mandated masking for high school and middle school students while indoors, while finding periods during the day when masks can be safely removed
  • no mandated masking for children in kindergarten
  • emphasizing physical distancing for high school students where cohorting is less practical and implementing cohorts for younger age groups
  • ensuring mental health services are available for children and youth and encouraging social interactions where possible to mitigate mental health effects

Overall, the document noted that reducing community transmission is essential to allow the safe re-opening and continued operation of schools.

“Keeping schools open safely will be facilitated by low community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and, therefore, it is imperative that strategies to reduce disease prevalence and community transmission continue to be emphasized,” the document stated.

Ontario closed all schools as part of province-wide lockdown measures on December 26. Premier Doug Ford has since announced a new state-of-emergency and stay-at-home order.

The province allowed schools to reopen in Northern Ontario on January 11.

Schools in seven more regions will reopen on Monday, but schools in hotspot regions Toronto, York, Peel, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex will remain closed until at least February 10.

Other jurisdictions will see schools closed until at least January 25.


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