Health Unit Bulletins for families with school aged children

RCD top doctor urges vaccination for 5-11 year olds

Renfrew County and District Health Unit distributed this statement from Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Rob Cushman, on Jan.14

Everyone wants schools to reopen as soon as possible, and we want them to stay open. Our children have suffered greatly from the damage of the pandemic. Their education has been inferior, and in many cases, their skills have gone backwards. Their social lives have been curtailed and their mental health jeopardized.

Unfortunately, the vaccination rates do not reflect our enthusiasm for getting children back to school and keeping classrooms safe during this fifth and most infectious wave of the pandemic. While the 12- to18-year-old age group in Renfrew County and District have a two-dose vaccination rate close to 80 percent, the first dose rate for the 5- to 11-year-old group is half of that, at only 40 percent.

If we want to keep our schools open, [and] keep them functioning, [if] we want the kids to regain what they’ve lost with education, to see their friends, and if we want parents to be able to work — the best way to do this is to get everybody vaccinated…. Also we’ve noticed that adults between the ages of 20 and 40 have our lower immunization rates in Renfrew County, and a lot of these folks are the parents of the 5- to 11- year olds. So it’s really a family matter.Dr. Rob Cushman, Acting Medical Officer of Health, Renfrew County and District.

Vaccination is the best way to protect our children and their families, and to ensure our schools remain open. Teachers and school staff are getting boosters at a rapid rate, but they need to reduce their exposure to unvaccinated students if absenteeism and staff shortages are to be avoided. We are a community, and our protection is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. The weak link is the vaccination rate for the 5- to 11-year-old age group.

The pediatric dose of the Pfizer vaccine is one third of the dose used for people aged 12 and over. It is extremely safe. By the end of 2021, 8 million doses had been given in the USA with only 11 cases of heart problems, 8 of which had resolved and the rest of which were progressing well.

There were a small percentage of minor problems including a sore arm, fatigue, and fever, all of which resolved quickly. Only one of the 3,300 doses given so far in Renfrew County and District has even been brought to my attention. All to say that for comparison, a drive to the rink on a snowy morning is more dangerous.

Additionally, while children tend not to get very sick with COVID-19, Omicron has landed more children in the hospital than we had previously seen. Heart complications are serious and not uncommon in COVID-19 patients. It must be taken seriously if we are to avoid cases of serious illness and tragedy.

Omicron spreads much more rapidly than Delta. In November and December, schools were the number one source of outbreaks. Until schools closed before Christmas, the highest rate for cases was in the 5- to 11-year-old age group. Household cases can tie a family down for up to ten days, keeping kids and parents at home from school and work. Equally, teaching capacity can be reduced if teachers or their families are infected and need to isolate. In conclusion, school is more important than ever for the many reasons we all know. School protocols can only go so far, and we do not want a repeat of November and December. The best way to protect the schools is to get the entire family vaccinated. The vaccines are effective and safe. Our clinics have availability for everyone who is eligible, and next week, we will be offering vaccines in the schools. I urge you to do your part to protect your loved ones, your schools and your community.

Cushman, Dr.R., Renfrew County and District Health Unit(2022,Jan.14) Memorandum: Schools, vaccines, and families with school aged children [statement]

Health Unit supports return to school

Renfrew County and District Health Unit distributed this statement from Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Rob Cushman, on Jan.15

To all students, school families, education, and school transportation staff:

As we enter yet another year of the pandemic, we remain committed to working with local school communities to help students stay in class and to do so as safely as possible. We support the return to in-person learning on January 17. Keeping students in class is beneficial for mental, social, and physical health.

Throughout the pandemic, public health measures have been effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in schools. While the risk of COVID-19 cannot be eliminated when community transmission is high, risk of transmission in schools is significantly reduced by the many layers of protection that have been put in place, including:

  • Screening for symptoms before attending school and staying home with symptoms of illness
  • Thorough cleaning and disinfection
  • Cohorting as much as possible, physical distancing, and masking, including access to three-ply masks for students, as needed
  • Frequent hand hygiene
  • Active screening and isolation of individuals with symptoms, their household members, and high-risk contacts
  • Enhanced ventilation and HEPA filters as outlined by the Ministry of Education
  • High levels of vaccination in students aged 12 to 18 years, and rising levels of vaccination in students aged 5 to 11 years
  • Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) for students and staff in schools and child care
  • Reporting of higher than normal absenteeism rates to public health which will trigger a review of infection prevention and control measures in the school

The COVID-19 monitoring and response strategy has changed. We have had to make changes to how we respond to the virus. The Omicron variant is highly transmissible, and spreads at a rapid rate and therefore widespread testing has limited value in slowing the virus. As a result, all individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 can be presumed to be infected with the virus and must isolate as directed. Without confirmatory testing, these individuals will not be permitted to attend school until their isolation period is complete.

Public Health has already established protocols in place under The Health Protection and Promotion Act, 1990 to respond to infectious disease outbreaks in school settings. When the absentee rate in a school or child care setting increases sharply by approximately 30 per cent, a notification will be provided to school families with information on any additional public health measures that should be followed. Routine notification of families and exclusion of cohorts will not be taking place. Exposures that occur only in the school setting, with public health measures in place, will not typically be considered high-risk, and therefore, no action is required by others in a cohort – other than regular symptom monitoring.

We must all work together to keep the risk as low as possible. Everyone in the community, including staff, students, and families, must monitor diligently for illness and follow directions for isolation when applicable. To help limit the spread of illness in the community, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated. Together with our school community partners, we look forward to welcoming students back to in-person learning. The return to class will provide immeasurable benefits to the mental and physical well-being of all students and their families. We know that there may be questions and concerns in response to changes and you can be reassured that we will continue to work with school partners to support a safe and healthy return to school throughout these changes.

Cushman, Dr.R., Renfrew County and District Health Unit(2022,Jan.15) Statement of Support from Renfrew County and District Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Regarding the Return to School [statement]

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