COVID-19 safety precautions have been stepped up as students in Newmarket and across York Region ready to return to school on Feb. 16.
Now students with only one symptom — which can include fever and chills, a cough, or runny or congested nose — should not attend school for in-person learning, according to York Region medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji in his weekly online update today.
“The screening tool has been modified, given the presence of the variants, to make it more difficult for an individual to enter the school if they have any symptoms of COVID-19.”
Previously, students were required to stay home and isolate and seek medical advice regarding testing if two or more symptoms were indicated following daily screening.
COVID hotspots Toronto and Peel had earlier moved to one-symptom screening, Kurji added.
“Generally speaking, our schools have been very safe,” he told regional council last Thursday, but said the public health unit is taking tougher measures because the faster spreading variant strain is being transmitted in communities across the region.
Currently, 59 variant cases have been confirmed in York Region, three of which are in Newmarket.
Prior to schools closing during lockdown, the majority of COVID-19 cases in students and staff were acquired within the community, Kurji said.
“In our previous periods, we have always found that the danger was students acquiring COVID-19 outside in the community, and then bringing it into the schools, rather than the transmission within the schools.”
In York Region, there have been 57 school outbreaks, which are declared when two or more cases are confirmed within a 14-day period, with at least one case acquired in the school. There have been 377 school surveillances, indicating the cases were not acquired within a school.
Four school outbreaks have been declared in Newmarket — one is currently active at Armitage Village Public School — and 25 school surveillances.
There have been 723 student and child care cases, and 300 staff and visitor cases in York Region.
New provincial rules now require masks to be worn by students in grades 1 to 3, as has been mandated for older students.
All students in grades 1 to 12 must now also wear masks outdoors when physical distancing can’t be maintained, Kurji added.
Students are not allowed to congregate before and after school.
More COVID-19 testing will also be available for students and staff who are asymptomatic, provided by a third-party vendor, if there is transmission within a school, or more than five cases acquired in the community within a school, Kurji said.
“Testing by the vendor would be available for cohorts that have been dismissed (to isolate), as well as other individuals within the school,” he added.
York Region is finalizing arrangements to have Panbio rapid testing available, which would help students in isolation return to school more quickly with two negative test results.
“So that would basically reduce the time that students have to be out of school for, and would reduce the pressure on parents who have to spend time looking after students at home,” Kurji said.
More details are available on york.ca/SafeAtSchool.