COVID-19 and School Reopening – Public Health Information for Parents/Guardians


Guidance given by Public Health reflects a general scenario and is based on current data and local numbers. This information is subject to change and will be updated as new information or evidence about COVID-19 emerges locally and provincially.

Letter to Parents and Guardians from the Medical Officer of Health
Letter to Parents and Guardians

Joint Statement Northern Medical Officer of Health and Directors of Education

Directors of Education and Medical Officers of Health from across Northern Ontario stand united to deliver on COVID-19 safer schools

Physical Distancing

What is a cohort?

Cohorting means keeping students together in a group throughout the school day, with limited exposure to multiple teachers or a wide variety of classmates. 

Will my child have to physically distance while at school?

Physical distancing of 2 meters should be promoted as much as possible in each cohort at all times. Cohorts need to physically distance from other cohorts. 

Will my child’s educator be interacting with more than one cohort?

Educators may be interacting with more than one cohort. The Ministry of Education will provide medical masks and eye protection (e.g., face shields) for all educators and other school staff.
Will I be able to visit or volunteer in my child’s classroom this year if I physically distance?
In the upcoming school year, schools are asked to significantly limit or even prohibit visitors, including parents/guardians. Visits to ensure school safety, such as inspections by the Fire Marshal's office or by public health, should continue to take place. 
Will my child have access to visits by community agencies (e.g., health professionals)?
Community agency staff may be allowed into schools to support students. Any visitors to a school should be required to self-screen for symptoms and wear a medical mask while on school premises.

Face Coverings

Does my child need to wear a face covering at school? 

Students in grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear a non-medical or homemade (cloth) face covering indoors in school. This includes in hallways and during classes. Students from kindergarten to grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear face coverings inside at school.

Reasonable exceptions to the requirement to wear face coverings are expected to be put in place by schools and school boards. Staff or students with sensory or breathing difficulties may be exempted by the school principal, guided by school board policies.

What kind of face covering does my child need to wear?
Non-medical or cloth masks, with preferably two layers of material. They should securely cover the nose, mouth, and chin and without gaping in order to contain coughs, sneezes, and respiratory spit and spray of the person wearing the face covering. 
How should my child wear a face covering? 
  • Have your child wash their hands using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with minimum alcohol concentration of 70%).
  • Make sure the face covering fits well around their nose and mouth and allows for easy breathing.
  • Make sure their face covering is secured to their head with ties or ear loops without the need to adjust frequently.
  • If their face covering has pleats, ensure that the pleats on the outside are facing down.
  • If their face covering has a metal strip over the nose, have your child gently mold it over the bridge of their nose.
  • Teach your child to avoid touching or moving the face covering around when using it.
  • Do not allow your child to share their face covering with others, even within their own household or social circle.
  • Teach your child to replace the face covering as soon as it becomes damp, dirty, or damaged.

How to wear a face covering printable poster.

What will my child do with their face covering when they are not wearing it, for example during lunch and recess? 
Your child can store the face covering in a paper bag, envelope, or container that does not retain moisture if they will be wearing it again. The paper bag, envelope or storage method chosen should be clearly labelled with your child’s name.
How can I get my child ready to wear a face covering?
Encourage your child to wear a face covering by doing the following:
  • Explain why: Explaining the importance of wearing a face covering in simple terms can help them understand why wearing a face covering is important. Allow your child to ask questions and express their feelings.
  • Give choices: Face coverings come in a variety of styles, patterns, fabrics and fits. Consider letting your child choose their face covering pattern and/or colour. Compliment your child’s face covering choice and praise them for wearing the face covering.
  • Include face coverings in imaginative play: Include face coverings in their playtime such as putting a face covering on a favourite stuffed animal. Having face coverings present in their environment will let them become more comfortable with the look and feel of face coverings.
  • Set an example: When heading out in public, show your child how you put on your face covering and explain why you are doing it – to protect those around you. Have your family practice wearing face coverings at home to help your child get comfortable wearing one. Practice wearing face coverings at home to help your child get comfortable wearing one.
What do I do if another child in my child’s classroom isn’t wearing a face covering?
Exemptions to wearing a face covering are in effect for multiple reasons, including medical and age-related. No proof of exemption is required. We encourage our community to be ‘COVID kind’ and understand that not everyone can wear a face covering safely and may need accommodation and understanding. 
My child is in kindergarten to grade 3, can I have them wear a face covering to school?
Students from kindergarten to grade 3 are encouraged but not required to wear face coverings inside at school.
Should I label my child’s face covering? 
Personal items being brought to school (e.g., backpack, clothing, sun protection, water bottles, food, face coverings) should be labelled with your child’s name. 
Hand Washing
When should students wash or sanitize their hands?
The need to hand wash is based on actions, not a number. Moments where hands need to be washed or sanitized are: at the beginning of the day, before and after eating, before and after physical education class, after using the washroom, after coughing and sneezing into hands or using a tissue, and after outdoor time. Staff and students will likely be washing their hands at least hourly if not more, based on their activities during the day. 
What are the steps to wash and/or sanitize your hands? 
Symptoms and Screening (updated September 16, 2020)

Should I screen my child for symptoms before leaving for school? (updated September 16, 2020)

Yes, all students must self-screen every day before attending school. This may be done independently by the child or with the help of a caregiver. If a student is experiencing any symptom of COVID-19 (that is not new, worsening, or due to an underlying health condition or seasonal allergies), they must stay home from school and should seek testing and appropriate medical attention. 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19? 
Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
  • Fever (temperature of 37.8°C (100°F) or higher)
  • New or worsening cough
  • Shortness of breath

Other symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

    • Sore throat
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Lost sense of taste or smell
    • Nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain
    • Runny nose or nasal congestion (not related to seasonal allergies or other known causes)

 Unusual signs and symptoms can include:

    • Extreme tiredness that is unusual
    • Muscle aches that are unusual or long lasting
    • Delirium (acutely altered mental status and inattention)
    • Falling down often
    • Acute functional decline (new loss of independence in activities of daily living)
    • Worsening of chronic conditions
    • Chills
    • Headaches
    • Croup (barking cough, making a whistling noise when breathing)
    • Pink eye
    • High heart rate
    • Low blood pressure
    • Sluggishness in infants
    • Having a hard time feeding infants

*Unusual signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are more common in children, older people, and people living with a developmental disability.

Cough and Sneeze Etiquette
How should my child cough or sneeze to prevent the spread of germs?
Students should sneeze and cough into their upper sleeve. If a child sneezes or coughs into their hand, hand hygiene should be performed. 
Greetings During COVID-19
How should my child greet their friends, classmates and teachers?
It is important for students to maintain physical distance from people outside of their social circle. That means no hugs, selfies or other close contacts. A smile, a wink or a wave are great ways to say hello!
Protocols and Actions (updated September 11, 2020)
My child has one or more symptoms of COVID-19. Should they go to school?

Children often show mild or unusual symptoms of COVID-19 or they may not have any symptoms. It is important if a staff or student has one or more symptoms that are new, worsening, or not due to an underlying health condition or seasonal allergies, that they stay at home and arrange to be tested for COVID-19

My child developed symptoms throughout the day. What now? (updated September 11, 2020)

Any student or staff member who develops one or more of the COVID-19 symptoms while in school should be immediately isolated from others, in a separate room where possible, until they are able to go home.  

Isolated students should be supervised per usual school policy, with 2 metre physical distancing maintained and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) provided consistent with health guidance.   

The school should contact a parent/guardian for immediate pick-up. Older students may walk/drive themselves home. Students should not take school or public transportation. 


When is my child able to return to school after experiencing symptoms? (new September 10, 2020) 

Please refer to the Return to School Protocol for Students/Staff with COVID-19 Symptoms for guidance on when your child is able to return to school. 

What happens if a student or staff tests positive for COVID-19 at my child’s school?  (new September 10, 2020) 

In the event of a confirmed positive case of COVID-19, the Health Unit will notify the relevant school board that a member of a specific school community has tested positive for COVID-19.  

The Health Unit will conduct contact tracing and reach out to every individual who may have been in contact with the individual who tested positive. This includes contact tracing for points of contact in the classroom, school, bus, before and after school programs, etc. The school board will work closely with the Health Unit to provide key information about staff and students that is needed for contact tracing (e.g., attendance records, class lists, up to date contact information for parents/guardians, staff and students, etc.)  

If you are not contacted by the Health Unit but are concerned that you may have contracted the virus, please self-isolate, use the self-assessment tool created by the Ontario government and follow the instructions provided. If you are instructed to seek testing for COVID-19, please visit an assessment centre closest to you. If you need further assistance, call your health care provider or the Health Unit at 1-800-563-2808. If you have severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, you should call 911 and mention your symptoms. 

School boards and schools will communicate with families if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 that involves a student or staff member in a school setting, and will provide notice of any closures of classes, cohorts or schools. In the interests of privacy, information provided to school communities will not identify the student or staff member that has received a positive COVID-19 test. If public health advises that a class, cohort or a school should be closed for a period of time, parents, students and staff will be notified immediately. 



What does it mean to have an outbreak declared at a school? (new September 10, 2020) 

An outbreak in a school is defined as two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students and/or staff in a school with an epidemiological link, within a 14-day period, where at least one case could have reasonably acquired their infection in the school (including transportation and before or after school care). 

The Health Unit and local school boards plan to work together in case of an outbreak in schools. The Health Unit is responsible for determining if an outbreak exists, declaring an outbreak, providing direction on outbreak control measures to be implemented, and determining when the outbreak is declared over. The Health Unit will assist in determining which cohort(s) may be sent home or if a partial or full school closure is required based on the scope of the outbreak. Signage for school entrances will be available for schools to post in the event of an outbreak. Please note there may be variability in scenarios based on local context. 


How is the Health Unit working with school boards on protocols?

In an effort to reduce the risk of students and staff becoming ill with COVID-19, the Health Unit is actively supporting school boards and schools with developing protocols and providing recommendations around school reopening. 

The Health Unit is also closely monitoring for any changes in COVID-19 viral activity throughout our district and especially within schools. Based on that information, the Health Unit may recommend changes to the existing protocols.

Elementary Schools
What will the elementary timetable look like? 
  • Elementary schools will reopen with the normal in-person delivery of teaching and instruction, with added health and safety protocols, province-wide.
  • Elementary school students in Kindergarten through Grade 8 will attend school five days per week, with 300 minutes of instruction per day, remaining in one group (cohort) for the full day, including recess and lunch. Cohorted classes will stay together and with one teacher, where possible. Students can expect to see changes in the timing of recesses and lunches as they are staggered to support cohorting.
  • Specialized teachers, like French teachers, will still be able to go into classrooms to provide the full range of programming for students. Students will also be able to leave their classrooms to receive additional supports, but direct and indirect contacts in schools for students should be limited to approximately 50.
  • In the end, parents/guardians have the right to decide if they feel it is safe for their children to return to school for in-person instruction.
  • Parents/guardians should review their child’s school board’s "return to school" plan for more details.
Secondary Schools
What will the secondary timetable look like?
  • School boards will be expected to implement adapted timetables at both the elementary and secondary levels that support cohorting of students as much as possible.
  • In order to reduce risk of transmission and to support contact tracing, school boards are to develop timetables that over a 1- to 2-week period:
    • Limit indirect and direct student contacts to approximately 100 students in the school; and
    • Are encouraged to keep secondary school students in a maximum of two in-person class cohorts
  • Parents should review their child’s school board’s "return to school "plan for more details.
Will my child need to wear a cloth face covering on the bus?
Students aged 5 and up will be required to wear face coverings in school vehicles. This is the same age requirement as directed by the Medical Officer of Health under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID19) Act, 2020 throughout the Health Unit district. Exceptions should be made for students with medical conditions or special needs that prevent masking.
Will there be assigned seating on the bus? 
Students may be assigned seats and if so, a record of the seating plan should be kept to assist with contact tracing in the case of a student or driver contracting COVID-19.
Will my child be sitting close to their siblings and other members of their cohort? 
Yes, students who live in the same household or are in the same cohort should be seated together. 
What other options are there for my child to get to school if I’m not comfortable with the busing option?
Promoting active transportation is another great way for getting to and from school, instead of driving or busing. This includes walking, biking, wheeling, or scooting. The benefits of active school travel include more active and healthy students, better academic performance, less traffic pollution and safer school zones.
Eating and Drinking
What do I need to pack for my child?
Pack a lunch and a reusable water bottle for your child. Personal items brought to school should be labelled and stored separately in cubbies/designated areas or lockers. 
Can my child bring a reusable water bottle to school?
Students are encouraged to bring a reusable, labelled water bottle. Water bottles will need to be filled rather than students drinking directly from the mouthpiece of water fountains. 
Will my child be eating in their classroom or the cafeteria/gym? 
Students are encouraged to eat lunch in their classroom with their cohort, to reduce contact with students from other cohorts. If weather permits, lunch breaks may be held outside. 
Will breakfast and snack programs be happening? 
Student Nutrition Programs are able to continue, using a "Grab and Go” format. All surfaces, bins and containers for food should be disinfected before and after each use. 
Will secondary school cafeterias be open? 
Cafeteria food services may be open and offering food in a "Grab and Go” format. Check with your child’s school to see if the cafeteria will be open.
Will my child have access to a microwave to heat up their lunch?
No, microwave use will not be allowed.  
Can my child share food with other children? Can my child accept food from other children?
Students are not allowed to share food or drinks. Each student will have their own individual meal or snack with no common food items. 
 Are students who usually leave school during their free time or lunch able to continue?

Students may be permitted to leave. Be sure to check your school and/or school board’s re-entry plan for more details.

If they are allowed to leave school property, it would be important to emphasize physical distancing and encourage wearing a face covering when interacting with peers outside their family or social circle. Also, students should be reminded about mandatory face coverings when entering public buildings such as restaurants, convenience stores and grocery stores. 

Sports and Extracurricular Activities
Will extracurricular activities and sports be happening this year? 
Schools can offer clubs and organized sports if physical distancing is possible and equipment and spaces are cleaned and disinfected between each use. Schools are encouraged to hold sports and extracurricular activities outside as much as possible. For activities taking place indoors, students in grades 4 to 12 need to wear face coverings.
Will my child have field trips with their class this year?

To align with physical distancing, schools should not plan field trips and activities needing group transportation at this time. 

Will there be school assemblies this year?
School assemblies or other large gatherings (e.g., concerts or dances) should be avoided. Virtual options should be offered instead of in person gatherings. 
Mental Health and Well-being
My child is scared to go back to school. How can I help them feel at ease? 
  • Starting school or starting a new school year can be stressful at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. Have an open conversation about what it is that’s worrying them, encourage them to ask questions, and reassure them that they are safe. Listen to your child and let them know you are there when they need you.
  • Let your child know that it is normal to have feelings of stress or anxiety and that it’s okay to express their feelings and talk about them.
  • Children may feel nervous or reluctant to return to school, especially if they have been learning at home for months. You could go through some of the changes they may expect at school, such as needing to wear face coverings. Children may also find it difficult being physically distanced from friends and educators while at school – you could encourage them to think about other ways to bond and stay connected.
  • Reassure children about safety measures in place to keep students and educators healthy and remind children that they can also help prevent germs spreading by washing their hands with soap and coughing or sneezing into their upper sleeve.
  • Remind children about the positives – that they will be able to see their friends and educators (if they are physically returning to the classroom) and continue learning new things.
  • Routines can help maintain a child’s sense of security. Create before and after school routines with your child such as preparing things to pack for school in the morning (e.g., lunch bag, reusable water bottle, face covering) and things to do when you return home (e.g., washing hands).
My child’s school is recommending the wearing of face coverings which is making my child feel more nervous. What should I say to them?
Approach this conversation with understanding, saying that you know they are feeling anxious about COVID-19, but that it’s healthy to talk about our worries and emotions. Children may also get upset or frustrated if they are finding it hard to wear face coverings, especially when running or playing. You can reassure your children that lots of adults are working hard to keep people safe, but share that it's important we all follow the recommended measures to take care of more vulnerable members of our community.
How can I encourage my child to follow precautions (e.g., frequent hand washing, physical distancing) at school without alarming them?
  • One of the best ways to keep children safe from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases is to simply encourage regular hand washing. It doesn't need to be a scary conversation. Sing along with their favourite song or do a dance together to make learning fun. Make sure to teach them about how even though germs are invisible, they could still be there. When children understand why they need to wash their hands, they’re likely to continue doing so.
  • You can also show children how to cough or a sneeze into their upper sleeve, and ask them to tell you if they start to feel like they have a fever, cough or are having difficulty breathing.
  • Remember to stay positive and praise your child. Meaningful praise will help promote your child’s self-confidence and motivation.
I’m concerned about my child’s mental health – who can I reach out to?
 Children’s mental health services are available through:
  • Your child’s school and/or school board
  • HandsTheFamilyHelpNetwork: 1-800-668-8555
  • Mental Health Crisis Line (available 24/7): 1-844-287-9072
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
How can parents/guardians practice self-care during this stressful time?
  • You can be a role model for your child by practicing self-care. Remember to take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, eat well, and stay socially connected.
  • Another important element is to create a parent/guardian support system. Consider reaching out to other parent/guardians at your child’s school or joining the parent council. 
Health Unit Services
Will other Health Unit services be available for students in schools (e.g., vaccines, dental, sexual health)?

The Health Unit will not be delivering vaccine clinics in schools this fall. Clinics will be offered within the community instead. Please check our website or watch for clinic details shared by your child’s school.

Oral Health and Sexual Health services will not likely be offered in schools this fall. These services remain available at the Health Unit offices in North Bay and Parry Sound.

Sexual Health is exploring other options to connect with designated secondary schools for services and will communicate with the schools.


More information

View the Ministry of Education’s Guide to reopening Ontario’s schools and your child’s school board’s or school’s "return to school" plan as it may differ.

Back to the Schools and COVID-19 page.

North Bay

345 Oak Street West

Parry Sound

70 Joseph Street Unit #302

Burk's Falls

17 Copeland Street (by appointment only)