Public Health tips for sending your child back to school safely

The top concern for OCSB parents sending their child back to school for in-person learning is health and safety. As a parent of two young children, Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health for Ottawa Public Health, can certainly relate. Check out this excellent video where she offers comfort and wisdom for parents facing this same challenge by answering the big questions you’re asking!

“We decided as a family, that sending our children back to school was the best decision for us, for our family.  Each family is different and Ottawa Public Health is here to support all families and address your questions.”

Dr. Vera Etches

Here are Dr. Etches’ answers to your top questions:

Do students, teachers and staff need to be tested before returning to school?

No, students, teachers and school staff don’t need to be tested before returning to school. The only reason to have your child – or yourself – tested is if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or if a health official advises testing. A full list of symptoms for COVID-19 is on our webpage: 

This webpage is particularly useful, constantly updated, I’ve heard from residents that a negative test result makes them feel like they’re free of the virus – good to go – but it is important to remember that a test result is only good for the moment it is taken – it tells you about that point in time – it can’t really give you proof that you’re not carrying the virus into the future. So the tests do work best when someone has symptoms, and there are not many reasons why someone with no symptoms to be tested, unless public health or your health care provider advises it.

What happens if a student or staff tests positive for COVID-19?

First of all, no one will be blamed for testing positive for COVID-19. For most people, the illness will be mild. Many people cannot identify where they came into contact with the virus because people do not always seem sick when they may be infectious to others. 

So in the first scenario, if someone in a school setting tests positive for COVID-19 and your child IS a close contact, an Ottawa Public Health nurse will contact you directly with information on if, how and when to get tested for COVID-19 as well as further actions you’ll need to take.

In the second scenario, if someone in a school setting tests positive for COVID-19 and your child is NOT considered a close contact, you do not need to have your child tested or keep them home.

What is a “close contact”?

Well, each situation can be a little different, but a close contact is typically someone who had prolonged exposure in close proximity to a person diagnosed with COVID-19. Passing someone in the hallway would not be considered a close contact, but spending hours or days together in your home, workplace or school setting may be considered a close contact. Again, a public health nurse will be in touch with you, if this is the case.

What steps do I need to take if my child becomes ill with symptoms of COVID-19?

You must keep your child home from school and notify the school that your child is ill with symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19. You will be contacted by a Public Health Nurse who will provide you with directions regarding testing and next steps.

What steps do I need to take if my child tests positive for COVID-19?

I can understand that this may be difficult if you get this result. One of our public health nurses will provide guidance to you if your child tests positive. 

In this case, your child must self-isolate at home until:

  • they have completed at least 14 days of isolation from when their symptoms began or they receive a positive test result (if they never had symptoms of COVID-19); and
  • they have not had a fever for 72 hours and their symptoms have been improving for at least 72 hours. (This could result in the self-isolation period being longer than 14 days.)

It is important to note that if your child is diagnosed with COVID-19, all their household contacts will also require close follow-up by OPH and further guidance will be provided to them as well.

What happens when there are people in the school that test positive COVID?

Once someone in a school is confirmed with COVID, whether that is a staff or student, Ottawa Public Health would reach out to parents of close contacts to let them know and help them with the next steps which include staying home, monitoring for symptoms and presenting for testing when it’s appropriate. Ottawa Public Health would continue to investigate to determine any other close contacts and monitor the situation to determine if there is an outbreak situation, whether it affects single classrooms, a section of the school or the entire school and we’ll determine when an outbreak can be declared over.

Back to school dos and don’ts

As the start of school approaches, we encourage you to have a few conversations in your family, with your child or youth, to talk about the following dos and don’ts to help them and their friends stay healthy:


  • Stay at home when you are sick, even when symptoms are mild. Staying home helps prevent spreading your illness to friends and teachers. 
  • Tell someone right away if you don’t feel well
  • Practice “no-touch” greetings with your friends and teachers at school. Let’s share a wave and not our germs. 
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper arm, not your hands! Throw the tissue away in the garbage can and wash your hands right away.
  • Bring your own water bottle from home to stay hydrated throughout the day. And don’t share it with friends. 
  • Keep one to two meters (three to six feet) apart to keep you and the friends around you healthy.
  • Wear a mask if you’re able (required in school for grades 4 and up)
  • Reach out for help if you need it. It’s ok NOT to feel ok. Talk to your school guidance counsellor or check out for some of our Mental wellness supports.
  • Make sure your immunizations are all up to date.


  • Don’t share personal belongings and food with students and staff. 
  • Don’t share your mask.
  • Don’t touch your face. We can easily spread germs from our hands to our mask or face.

Ottawa Public Health webpage for schools

I encourage you to visit our new website for parents who have children going back to school. You can find it at This webpage includes:

  • school reopening plans • health promotion and disease prevention measures 
  • mental wellness supports
  • partner resources 
  • and much more including a very helpful decision-making screening tool.

Screen your child for COVID-19 symptoms daily

Ottawa Public Health has developed a simple-to-use screening tool to help parents decide whether, each day, their children should be going to school.

COVID-19 Screening Tool for Students

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