Ontario relaxes school, daycare screening guidelines

Ontario relaxes school, daycare screening guidelines

TORONTO — Parents of students with the sniffles or a headache will no longer have to line up for hours to get their children tested at COVID-19 assessments centres under Ontario’s newly amended screening guidelines for schools and daycares.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, said students with either of those symptoms can return to school after 24 hours if they otherwise feel fine. She said those are only symptoms in about 17 per cent of COVID-19 cases among children, so the change seemed prudent.

“There’s all sorts of other causes of a runny nose, there’s other viruses circulating in the community,” she said. “The kid might have just been outside and got a runny nose.”

Previously, the government had asked children with either symptom to stay home until they received a negative test result or other medical diagnosis, or were symptom-free for 24 hours. Now kids can return to class even with one of those symptoms after a day.

Ontario is also removing abdominal pain or conjunctivitis from its screening list.

Children with a fever or cough will still be required to stay home, consult with a doctor and receive an alternative diagnosis or a negative COVID-19 test.

Ontario’s change comes after British Columbia dropped 10 symptoms, including a runny nose, from their screening guidance last month.

NDP education critic Marit Stiles slammed the Ontario government for its changing guidelines, saying the shifts are giving parents “whiplash.”

“Parents who spent hours and hours in line this week with their little ones waiting for a test … have a right to be frustrated at the horrible lack of clarity on when kids need a test, and when they should return to school or daycare,” she said.

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Meanwhile, Ontario also announced Thursday that it will give pay raises to personal support workers throughout the health-care system in a bid to recruit and retain them during the pandemic.

Premier Doug Ford said about 147,000 workers in long-term care, hospitals, and community care are eligible for the increase. Personal support workers in long-term care and community care will be eligible for a $3 an hour pay increase, while personal support workers in hospitals will see a $2 an hour pay hike.

The temporary increase begins Thursday and will expire in March 2021, costing the government $461 million. Ford said he has not ruled out continuing the pay raise next year.

“As we enter the second wave of COVID-19, we need to stabilize our PSW workforce,” he said. “We need to make sure that when our loved ones need care, whether at home in a hospital, or in a long-term care, there’s a PSW there to support them.”

Advocates in the long-term care and home care sectors have said low pay has contributed to personal support worker shortages before and during the pandemic.

The secretary-treasurer of Canadian Union of Public Employees said the announcement was a good first step, but more must be done to address working conditions and compensation for personal support workers.

“Wages were always only one part of the problem,” Candace Rennick said in a statement “What about confronting the disgraceful reality of part-time work, lack of benefits and access to paid sick days, and adequate of hours of care to ensure and enhance quality of life?”

Ontario reported 538 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and three new deaths from the illness. The majority of the cases were reported in the Greater Toronto Area and Ottawa.

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In total, 162 people are hospitalized due to COVID-19, including 36 in intensive care.

The province also reported 65 new COVID-19 cases related to schools, including at least 29 among students. Those bring the number of schools with a reported case to 307 out of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2020.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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