The Nova Scotia Pediatric Pandemic Advisory Group Letter:

An Open Letter to Nova Scotia Parents and Students, September 6th, 2022.

“As we prepare to return to school this fall, we know that questions about how best to protect students, teachers, and families/caregivers are being asked. Schools, like hospitals, provide an essential service. Students and educational staff need to be healthy and able to attend so that all can benefit.

During the past 2 ½ years, we have learned a lot about what works to decrease respiratory illnesses including COVID-19, influenza and the common cold. We need to use what we have learned and work together as we begin another school year to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

Masking, vaccination and hand washing have been cornerstones of the pandemic response and have proven effective in reducing transmission of infections. While it is reasonable to relax some of the recommendations that were crucial during earlier waves of COVID-19, masks, vaccines and good hand washing remain our best tools to fight the spread of infection.

Masks: Masks do reduce transmission of COVID and other respiratory viruses. We recommend wearing masks in the school setting when students or teachers:

  • are mildly unwell (i.e. runny nose), but still able to attend school.
  • are in close contact with someone who has respiratory symptoms who can’t wear a mask.
  • are worried about potentially bringing home respiratory viruses to family members or loved ones who are at higher risk of becoming severely ill.
  • feel more comfortable wearing a mask for any reason.

What else can help?

  • Make sure you and your family receive all recommended COVID-19, influenza and other vaccinations.
  • Stay home from school/work if you are sick and/or experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms, including fever, vomiting or diarrhea, or new cough.
  • Use good hand washing practices, including after returning home from being out in public, before eating, and after toileting.

Finally, it is important to ensure that students are not bullied about whether they do or do not wear a mask. Discuss this with your children. Be kind to one another, and tough on viruses.

Nova Scotia Pediatric Pandemic Advisory Group:

Dr. Alexa Bagnell (IWK Chief of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)

Dr. Tara Chobotuk (IWK Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Chief of Community Pediatrics- Central Zone)

Dr. Jeannette Comeau (IWK Pediatric Infectious Diseases Specialist and Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control)

Dr. Joanna Holland (IWK General Pediatrics & Hospital Medicine)

Dr. Katharine Kellock (Community Pediatrician- Sydney)

Dr. Mike Nash (Chief of Pediatrics- Valley Regional Hospital, Kentville)

Dr. Sarah Shea (IWK Developmental Pediatrics)

Dr. Andrew Lynk (IWK Chief of Pediatrics)”

Infection Prevention and Control Considerations for Schools

Briefs of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

“In-person schooling is essential for children and youth for both academic educational attainment and for the development of social, emotional growth and life skills. Schools are a place where children gain essential academic skills, form friendships, learn social and life skills, and are key settings for physical activity. Schools provide critical services that help to mitigate health disparities, including school nutrition programs, public health services (immunizations, dental screening), health care services (speech and language therapy, occupational therapy), social services and mental health supports. Schools should therefore remain open for in-person learning.

Optimizing the health and safety of children and staff in schools requires that certain health and safety measures be in place, irrespective of the COVID-19 pandemic. These “permanent” measures include achieving and maintaining adequate indoor air quality, environmental cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene, students and staff staying home when sick and up-to-date routine and recommended immunizations for students and staff. 

Temporary infection-related health and safety measures (e.g., masking, physical distancing, cohorting, active screening, testing) can help reduce the transmission of communicable illnesses in schools. However, some can pose additional challenges to school operations, student learning and student wellness. Furthermore, some of these measures may adversely impact social connectedness, which is of vital importance for children of all ages and of heightened significance in the adolescent years. Therefore, a thoughtful approach based on real-time local level analysis is recommended before reintroducing these temporary measures after careful consideration of the potential benefits and negative consequences. Given that schools are not isolated from communities, implementation of these temporary measures should not be done in isolation of community measures for indoor spaces. These temporary measures are not expected to be required at the start of the 2022 school year.”