[Toronto Star] Durham parents are worried about coronavirus but school boards say its business as usual
It's business as usual in Durham's schools, even as news of two cases of novel coronavirus in Toronto - and more people being monitored - has some parents on edge.
School boards in Durham sent letters home Monday in an effort to reassure parents.
The boards says they are working closely with the Durham Region Health Department as well as provincial and federal health agencies - and that they have not been directed to take any additional measures at this time.
The only board in Durham that is doing anything differently, is the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland Clarington Catholic District School Board, which includes Catholic schools in Clarington.
In an email to parents, the board says concerns about coronavirus - combined with a higher than usual rate of absenteeism in some schools due to influenza - means a "proactive outbreak cleaning protocol" has been initiated in all its buildings.
PVNCCDSB spokesperson Galen Eagle says this includes greater emphasis on disinfecting "touch points" such as door handles, computer keyboards and table tops.
Durham's other boards did not indicate that they have increased cleaning measures.
School board officials are advising parents and students to follow general measures to reduce transmission of respiratory illness such as: washing hands frequently with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; covering your mouth and nose when your cough and sneeze; coughing or sneezing into your sleeve or arm if you don't have a tissue; and staying home and isolating yourself if you or your family members are ill.
Glendene Collins, a spokesperson for Durham Region Health Department, said they are working closely with local school boards and ensuring that boards report when 10 per cent or more of their staff/student population is absent due to illness - which is a regular part of monitoring potential outbreaks in institutions.
"At this time, no special guidance is in place for contacting families that are currently travelling," Collins said.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, sent a letter about the coronavirus to the province's school communities on Monday.
It says students and parents should "rest assured" that the province is working closely with its partners in education and health care to ensure students are safe,
"These presumptive positive cases do not change the overall risk to Ontario, which is still considered low," Williams noted, referring to the two coronavirus cases in Toronto.
For some parents in Durham, the reassurances aren't enough.
More than a dozen local parents contacted Torstar's community newspapers in Durham to share concerns.
They want to see increased disinfecting in schools, and to be notified if a student who has recently returned from China, is at school with their child.
Parents are also calling for school boards to require students who have recently returned from China, to self-quarantine for 14 days, as a precaution.
"I think it's basic common sense," says Lisa Gagnon, whose children are in Grade 9 and 11. "If someone has recently been in a place where there is a huge outbreak of a virus, they shouldn't be in school a few days later. Why allow that risk?"
Rob Simard says he is "terrified" - his daughter is in kindergarten and has severe asthma.
"I called her school to find out what is being done, and basically the answer is nothing. No extra cleaning and disinfecting, nothing. It's shocking," he says.
Some GTA private schools are taking a hardline stance, requiring students who have travelled to Asia, to stay home for 15 days.
As of Monday, close to 9,000 people had signed a petition titled "A petition "stop the potential spreading of the novel coronavirus in schools of York Region," which calls on school boards in York to keep track of students who have recently been in China, and request that they "stay isolated" for at least 17 days.
The petition also asks that those who have recently travelled to China be required to report that to the teacher so parents of other kids in the class can decide whether to keep their children home
Another petition by a University of Waterloo student has more than 28,000 signatures and calls on campuses to close or make attendance optional saying, "We do not feel safe going to school and public places."
Both Durham College and Ontario Tech University in Oshawa say classes are continuing as normal, and that they are monitoring the situation and will follow recommendations from public health authorities.
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