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Grey Bruce Health Unit explains COVID-19 screening for school

GREY-BRUCE – The Grey Bruce Health Unit (GBHU) is hoping to clear the air on when a child needs to be tested for COVID-19.

In a press release on Sept. 18, the GBHU stated they have heard from several stakeholders expressing concerns about the current screening questionnaire that may send children for testing when it’s not required.

“This may also needlessly exclude children from school, and result in isolation of household members including parents’ inability to go to work. For example, one sneeze should not warrant school exclusion, isolation, nor testing,” stated the release.

The Health Unit says that a new provincial screening tool will assist in determining if a child should be staying home or attending school. The screening tool can be used for students, parents and teachers and is available online at https://covid-19.ontario.ca/school-screening/.

“The new provincial screening tool is a step forward from the screening questionnaire used to date by the schools. It is in part in response to the backlog of requests for tests at Assessment Centres. We believe this is an improvement over the previous questionnaire,” states the release.

The current provincial guidance requires a symptomatic student and their asymptomatic (no symptoms) household members to self-isolate for 14 days or until they receive a negative COVID-19 test result. The new version of the provincial guidance under development proposes a shift to “self-monitoring” for these asymptomatic household members.

According to the release, the current local COVID-19 situation allows the GBHU to safely recommend early adoption of the new guidance starting Sept. 18. Only the symptomatic student is required to self-isolate for 14 days, or until they receive their negative results and are asymptomatic for 24 hours.

In a case of a student or school staff with chronic symptoms that cause them to fail a COVID screening (for example, allergies, migraines or asthma), their family doctor with access to the patient’s medical history can play a role in helping explain their pre-existing conditions to their employer or school if needed.

“Healthcare providers are not expected to certify that an individual does not have COVID, rather they may certify that their patient’s symptoms are consistent with another health condition,” said the release.

If such clearance for chronic disease from a healthcare provider is not available, a symptomatic student and school staff will only be permitted to return to school if:

– they have received a negative COVID test result and has been symptom-free for 24 hours and can pass the Provincial Screening Tool; or;

– they have remained in home isolation for 14 days from the onset of symptoms and are symptom-free for 24 hours before returning to school.

All asymptomatic members of the same household are to self-monitor for 14 days and take appropriate precautions should symptoms appear. Asymptomatic students in the same household may return to school and do not require a COVID-19 test.

Any asymptomatic individual (even if a contact of a symptomatic individual) does not need to be tested, unless directed to do so by Public Health.

“We have identified the backlog of test requests related to school screening and return to school protocols and are working with schools, the local health care providers, and hospital COVID-19 Assessment Centres to address this issue,” said Dr. Ian Arra, Grey Bruce medical officer of health.

“At the same time, we recognize the priority of keeping our children, school staff, and the community safe.”

More information about testing can be found on the GBHU website.