In Ontario, no Negative Test Needed to Attend School if Child has Only One Symptom

In Ontario, no Negative Test Needed to Attend School if Child has Only One Symptom
A paramedic administers a nasal swab at a drive through, pop-up COVID-19 test centre outside the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on Sept. 20, 2020. (The Canadian press/Justin Tang)

As the backlog of lab tests for COVID-19 hits 80,000 in Ontario, the province has changed the guidelines for children attending school or daycare so that they will no longer require a negative test to return to class if they only have only one symptom.

“We are changing the policy and clarifying that schools and daycares should not be requiring a negative COVID test [if children have just one symptom]. In fact they shouldn’t even be requiring a doctor’s note,” Ontario’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said during a briefing on Thursday.

Many schools have told parents that if their child has even one of 17 virus symptoms, they have to test negative or self-isolate for 14 days before being allowed back into class.

The child will now require a negative test or will have to see a doctor only if they have the four main symptoms: a fever, cough, shortness of breath, or a loss of taste or smell.

Schools will screen students by asking parents whether their child has a primary symptom for COVID-19 such as a fever or a cough. Any student with those symptoms will be advised to stay home until they see a doctor or get tested.

The parent will also be asked about secondary symptoms such as a runny nose.  Students with one of the secondary symptoms will be asked to stay at home for 24 hours.

Children who only have a runny nose do not require a doctor’s note or a negative test to return to class. A runny nose is still one of the secondary symptoms in Ontario, although it has been removed from the list in British Columbia.

“It is still there [on the list] but what we want to look at really is whether it is a significant symptom and whether they have other symptoms as well,” Yaffe said.  “If they only have the runny nose and they go home and it gets better and they have no other symptoms then they can go back to school the next day,”

Ontario set a new record for the number of COVID-19 tests—83,473—that still need to be analyzed.

Premier Doug Ford has previously said that anyone who wanted a test should get one. On Thursday, however, he said, “If you aren’t showing symptoms, please just don’t go get tested.”

The message from Ottawa Public Health today was “keep it within your bubble.”

“People should not go to a bar or restaurant with someone who is not from their household,” Dr. Vera Etches, associate medical officer of health at OPH, said at a press conference.

Etches said that even though with the current spike “we’ve entered crisis territory” for the health-care system, she does not want to go to a Stage Two lockdown again because people have already lost so much and the effects on the economy has been devastating.

“What can be done quickly is changing our behaviour,“ she said. ”Prevention is the only way now, today, that we can slow the crisis in the rest of the health system.”