When a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19

We’re hearing many questions related to what happens when a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. We’ve taken some time to address the most common questions in this post using the information provided to us from Ottawa Public Health (OPH).

I received a letter saying there was a positive case in our school. What does this mean?

Ottawa Public Health has confirmed that someone in the school has tested positive for COVID-19. When that happens, the school sends a letter from public health to all families to be aware of the situation. A message is sent to any family or staff person who is considered a high-risk contact with specific instructions about what to do next. High-risk contacts must self isolate for 14 days. Everyone else can still attend school.

What is a high-risk contact?

A high-risk contact, or close contact, means that your child was in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The contact means they were in the same place for longer than 15 minutes and/or closer than 2-metre distances. The contact could have occurred in the classroom, on a school bus or in a daycare.

How do I know that it is safe for my child to go to school today?

We worked through a detailed contact tracing process with Ottawa Public Health to determine high-risk contacts. Suppose you are not an identified high-risk contact. In that case, the safety measures we have in place, including cohorting, mask-wearing, hand hygiene, and physical distancing, are all designed to mitigate exposure risk. Rest assured, your child’s school is clean, and the staff are here to welcome your child to school.

What class has a positive case of COVID-19?

We cannot tell you or confirm which class has a positive case. The school is required to notify families about positive cases at school, but not by class. We do not share this information to protect the privacy of the person affected. 

My child was not a high-risk contact; what should I do?

  • Read the letter from Ottawa Public Health carefully – it has a lot of useful information!
  • Continue to use the COVID-19 screening tool daily to check your child for symptoms before sending them to school.
  • Keep following public health advice, including- physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand hygiene and restricted social interactions.
  • If you are not identified as a high-risk contact, you can still go to school and work.
  • Resist the urge to “play detective.” This is a time to be supportive of one another. Avoid speculation, gossip and or stigmatization of people in your school community. 
  • Know that the school has been cleaned and is safe.

Should I get my child tested?

Yes, if your child was identified as a high-risk contact. The letter from Ottawa Public Health will provide directions, including the date your child should be tested.

The current priority for testing at the Ottawa assessment centres includes:

  • Any person (adult or child) with COVID-19 like symptoms. Please use Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 screening tool to check your child for symptoms.
  • Any person that Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has identified as a high-risk contact. OPH will contact you by phone call, email, or an automated message if you are high-risk.

COVID-19 testing is currently NOT recommended for:

  • Individuals without symptoms, unless you have been identified as a high-risk. 
  • Family members without symptoms, who have other family members that have symptoms.
  • Family members without symptoms, even those who have a family member identified as a high-risk contact.
  • Students and staff members in schools who don’t have symptoms and have not been notified by OPH as high-risk contacts.

What do I do if my child is a high-risk contact?

In Ontario, high-risk contacts must self-isolate for 14 days (Health Promotion and Protection Act). In most cases, Ottawa Public Health will recommend you (and/or the members of your household) to get tested five days after you last came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Most people who become sick with COVID-19 show signs and symptoms approximately after five days of exposure to someone with COVID-19.

People who live in your home (i.e. siblings, parents) with the person who is considered a high-risk contact do not need to self-isolate or to get tested. These people are “contacts of contacts” and are only required to self-isolate if someone in your family tests positive for COVID-19 or if they were exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Why was only one of my children identified as a close contact?

Ottawa Public Health identifies high-risk contacts based on information provided by the individual who tested positive and the school. Many factors are considered when determining close contacts, including but not limited to:

  • What were the shared spaces accessed by the individual(s) who have tested positive for COVID-19? 
  • Were they part of the same cohort as the individual who tested positive for COVID-19? (A cohort could be a class or section of a class or grouping that stays together and doesn’t interact with other cohorts to limit the risk of spread of the virus)
  • Was Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used (such as masks/face shields by school employees, and masks are worn by other individuals? Students in different grades are in different cohorts and may not have the same exposure.

How long do I need to self isolate if I am a high-risk contact?

The self-isolation period is 14 days. The letter to high-risk contacts provides the date until which you must self-isolate. After that, provided you have no symptoms, you can return to school.

Why does my high-risk contact letter say I can return next week when it’s supposed to be 14 days of self-isolation?

Ottawa Public Health establishes the timeframe for self-isolation based on when the person who tested positive was at a contagious stage. In some cases, a person who tested positive may not have been at the school for several days before testing.

How can I get more information?

Visit Supporting schools during COVID-19 on Ottawa Public Health’s website. It has plenty of useful information, including contact numbers, if you want to phone them.

Comments 4

I notice on the dashboard and in the news, it sounds like there is little evidence of transmission happening at school. I was contemplating switching my child into the virtual learning academy, but he is so happy at school… Is it fair to say the situation is quite safe at school?

Currently there is a wait list to switch your child to Virtual learning. Please discuss options with your child’s principal. Take care.

With the backlog that OPH is facing, I am concerned that there is a lag of days between a positive case in a classroom/school and when the parents are notified. Should parents not be notified immediately so that they can make an informed decision before sending their child to school?

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