Unity Health pediatricians recommend students return to full-day school in September

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Unity Health pediatricians recommend students return to full-day school in September

Toronto, July 29, 2020

By Jennifer Stranges

Dr. Justine Cohen-Silver
Dr. Justine Cohen-Silver

It’s a question that’s top of mind for many parents, and one that Dr. Justine Cohen-Silver, a pediatrician at St. Joseph’s Health Centre, hears daily in her practice: Is it safe for kids to return to school in September?

“We believe that return to school full-time is a safe and optimal opportunity that children should not be denied during the pandemic,” says Dr. Cohen-Silver.

Dr. Cohen-Silver and Dr. Sloane Freeman of Unity Health Toronto are part of an advisory group of Ontario pediatricians, led by The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and working closely with Ontario’s Ministry of Education, to provide guidance on the safe reopening of schools in September.

The group released updated guidelines on the safe return to school Wednesday as a follow-up to the original recommendations published in June. The latest guidelines recommend a return to full-day schooling, and include input from epidemiologists, public health physicians, teachers and parents. In greater detail and with more evidence to support their recommendation, the consensus of the advisory group is consistent with their original guidance: a safely planned return to school is essential to the well-being of children.

The updated recommendations come one week in advance of the Government of Ontario’s announcement of what schooling will look like for students in September.

Dr. Sloane Freeman
Dr. Sloane Freeman

“At present time, the risks of not attending school in-person far outweigh the risks of infection at school,” said Dr. Freeman, lead pediatrician for the Model Schools Pediatric Health Initiative at St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto.

The advisory group reviewed the most recent evidence which continues to indicate children are not at significant risk for severe illness, are less susceptible to COVID-19 and less likely to transmit the virus to adults.

Meanwhile, maintaining the closure of schools can have adverse impact on children’s’ behaviour and mental health.

The updated document also acknowledges the social and economic burden of COVID-19, which disproportionately impacts racialized communities and those with less wealth.

“I am excited about these new guidelines because not only do they describe ways to minimize risk of infection as children return to school, but they also consider equity in access to education and the important role school plays in the overall wellbeing of children and youth,” said Dr. Freeman, who is also an associate scientist with MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions.

Dr. Cohen-Silver, who is also a mother to school-aged children, said the recommendations should provide comfort and reassurance to parents.

“I hope for parents to feel confident that the health authorities and educational sector are working diligently together to try minimize as much risk as possible, while enabling opportunity for children to return to school.

Parents should have increased confidence in the back-to-school plan and feel reassured that there are sound, thorough guidelines to rely on when planning these steps.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our health network serves patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education. For more information, visit www.unityhealth.to.

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