She says school busses will also be considered a cohort, with assigned seating in place.
Hinshaw adds that families will have to assess their personal situations, and determine whether or not it’s in their best interest to allow their kids into additional cohorts, such as sports teams or performance groups. She says during at least the first few weeks of school, families will also have to assess whether or not they are comfortable with visiting family members who may be more vulnerable, such as those with health conditions or grandparents.
Dr. Hinshaw adds that if a case does show up in a class, like it did on Tuesday at a summer school in Calgary, they will have a “rapid response” that will include identifying the contacts of the individual, testing those people, and will be issuing 14-day quarantines.
If a case is identified in a school, then those who have come in direct contact with that individual will have to go into direct quarantine. However, Hinshaw says the contacts of the infected individual won’t necessarily need to be quarantined.
“So, it only is close contacts of cases. And when public health is notified of a case, they do an investigation and they identify, based on the activities of the person who’s now confirmed to have COVID, where they were when they would have been infectious, who they were in close contact with during that time, and only those people would need to go on to quarantine.”
She says if any of those people go on to be a confirmed cases, then that same assessment would take place, and by doing so the spread of the novel coronavirus could be monitored and controlled.
In response to a question regarding whether schools will see an increase in funding to make up for the COVID-19 guidelines, Minister LaGrange says $120-million is being allocated from the upcoming 2020-21 School Year budget, and the Province has accelerated $250-million for capital infrastructure maintenance and renewal. She says close to $15-million will be spent on COVID-19 related items, such as touchless sinks and hand-sanitizing stations. LaGrange also says around $363-million in school board reserves are accessible to school divisions.
While Hinshaw has touted the importance of wearing masks in indoor public spaces, the plan for returning to schools does not include having masks as mandatory. Hinshaw says they’ve been evaluating evidence on masks, particularly in schools, and will continue to watch for more evidence before deciding to incorporate mandatory masks into the plan.
When classes resume in the fall, children who have pre-existing conditions that are similar to COVID-19 symptoms, such as runny nose or scratchy throats from allergies, or breathing troubles and coughs from asthma, then that child will be tested at the beginning of the school year. Hinshaw says if the test comes back negative, then their condition will be used as a baseline, and if there are no changes to the symptoms, then that child will be allowed to attend class.
“Of course, if there is a change, and this a part of the return to school plan, that every morning parents assess their child’s health before taking them to school. And if there is a change, if they have more of a cough, if they have a fever, if their runny nose has progressed from a little bit of irritation that they always have to having a lot of congestion, then that’s when we’re really relying on parents, who know their children better than anyone, to assess ‘Is this new? Is this different?’ And if yes, then at that point we would ask that they stay home and be tested again.”
Hinshaw adds that the government and AHS are working towards creating a more streamlined process for administering and getting the results of COVID-19 tests, though could not offer a timeline for how soon they will be readily available for more widespread use.
The return to school guidelines set out by the province does have the option of going from Scenario 1 to Scenario 2, which would have less students in the school at one time and move to more online learning, as well as to Scenario 3, which is a return to at-home learning. The need to change from one scenario to another would depend on the situation in the local community, and any plans to change would be determined in conjunction with school divisions, as well as Dr. Hinshaw and her team.
Hinshaw says, based on other jurisdictions around the world that continued with school operations or are back in class already, having schools open don’t necessarily play a role in creating an outbreak in the community. However, if there is widespread transmission of the novel coronavirus in the community already, then it could lead to an increase of exposures in the schools.
Hinshaw is a mother and LaGrange is a grandmother, and both say they feel confident in the plan to return kids to classes in a near-normal setting.