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Health Unit addresses back-to-school concerns

In a school year that will look different from any other, parents and students are understandably concerned about returning to class amid a pandemic.

The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit (Health Unit) has not recorded a positive case of COVID-19 since July 4. Dr. Jim Chirico, Medical Officer of Health, says that there is a correlation between cases in the public and cases at schools.

“In other areas of the world that have gone back to school, we do know that if you have low numbers of cases in the community the chances are very favourable that you will have a low number of cases within the schools,” said Chirico, stressing that the virus is still very much a risk.

Each of the four public school boards within the Health Unit’s region has released their own return-to-school plan. All four have elected to move ahead with staggered starts beginning this week to allow for staff and students to become adjusted to the new schedule.

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‘Octomesters’ will also be introduced at high schools for both the Near North District School Board and the Nipissing Parry Sound District Catholic School Board, meaning that students will take one course with one teacher for the entire school day, switching every four weeks.

Dr. Chirico says that the dialogue between the Health Unit and local school boards has made the area’s return to school as safe as it could be.

“We’ve been working with the school boards for quite some time to prepare for school and I believe that we are as prepared as we possibly can be and that the risk currently is low,” Chirco assured.

The Medical Officer acknowledges the fact that there could be outbreaks at school. As per the Ontario government, an outbreak is officially declared when two active positive cases are confirmed at a single school within a two-week span. The Health Unit says that it will provide a prompt news release if there is an outbreak at a local school.

Parents have also been given the choice of whether to send their child to school or keep them at home for synchronous virtual learning. Chirico says that it’s a decision that will be different for everyone.

“Each parent has to decide for themselves if they feel that it is appropriate to have their children go to school. They have to assess whether the children are at high risk based on special needs and underlying health conditions,” he suggests.

Regardless of children being in school or not, Chirico says that the community needs to continue what it has been doing to maintain the low numbers of COVID-19.

“If the community continues to work hard to keep the numbers low through all the measures, then we can anticipate that it’ll be low in the schools. People have done an exceptional job so far and I anticipate they will continue to do that.”

Parents and students can access information regarding schools on the Health Unit’s website.

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