OMA Spotlight on Health

Back to School with Toronto Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vinita Dubey

September 04, 2020 Ontario Medical Association Season 1 Episode 28
OMA Spotlight on Health
Back to School with Toronto Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vinita Dubey
Show Notes Transcript

This September back to school will look different for all children. Featuring  Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto Associate Medical Officer of Health, explaining how Toronto Public Health is working with school boards to ensure the safest return to classes during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

OMA Podcast Episode 27 - Back to School with Toronto Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vinita Dubey

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Voice-over: In this podcast the Ontario Medical Association looks at current health issues that are on everyone’s mind. Spotlight on Health gives you the straight talk. We’re Ontario’s doctors and your health matters to us. 

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Anne Marie Flanagan: I’m Anne Marie Flanagan. I’m the Director of Media Relations and Social Media at the Ontario Medical Association.

Dr. Vinita Dubey: I'm Dr. Vinita Dubey, an Associate Medical Officer of Health at Toronto Public Health.

Flanagan: And we're here today to talk about back-to-school. 

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Flanagan: How are you working with local school boards or schools to ensure a safe return for students this fall?

Dr. Dubey: Local public health has very strong relationships with school boards actually, even before COVID began. And so, in July, Toronto Public Health; we had a meeting with our local school boards and talked to them about COVID, and what kind of COVID precautions they should start thinking about to implement in their schools. Because we were planning, actually, from the end of the school year and the beginning of the summer, that we wanted to get schools opened, and we started engaging with them early.

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Flanagan: What are some of the unique challenges or circumstances that you face in Toronto? 

Dr. Dubey: The one thing that we can say about Toronto is, COVID activity has never stopped. We had a large peak in the city, and we've had a very great decline—the cases have come down very nicely—but every single day since the peak we've had new cases reported. 

And what this means is that we still continue to have spread of COVID in the city. We still have community transmission of COVID in the city. And so, that puts schools in Toronto in a different place. They need to consider, probably, additional measures than places of our province that haven't had cases for weeks and weeks.

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Flanagan: I imagine the size of the population creates its own challenges as well?

Dr. Dubey: Absolutely. We've done some work of mapping the cases in the city, and the one thing that we can say is every single neighbourhood in the city has had cases, but we have seen a higher burden of cases in certain neighbourhoods. So, that's another feature for back-to-school, is being able to provide more supports in those neighbourhoods, recognizing that they may have a higher burden of this disease and illness. 

What we do know, is that when we have cases in the community, we can expect then that those cases will also spread in schools. And so, one of the best interventions we can do for back-to-school, is to make sure that we have very low or even no cases of COVID in the community. That will set us up the best for having children return back to school and keeping schools open. 

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Flanagan: The social circle or bubble—what happens to that when kids start going back to school?

Dr. Dubey: The social circle is 10 people. You can only be part of one circle. And in that circle, you don't need to have public health precautions, you don't need to physical distance, and you're all to protect each other in that social circle.

When kids are going to school now, they will be part of a school cohort, and the cohort will be, classically, a classroom, for example. But in that cohort, students are going to have to follow public health precautions.

And so, they will have to maintain a physical distance as much as possible, wear a mask—especially in the older grades—wash their hands often, do screening before they come into the classroom to make sure that they don't have symptoms.

So, that's the concept of the cohort. It is different from the bubble. Now, if there's a case, if someone comes down with COVID in the class, the whole cohort, because they may have had exposure to that person, is likely going to go home and have to self-isolate. 

Now, the question becomes, because a child is part of a cohort, does that mean that now we need to change our social circle? We'll have to wait and see how school plays itself out in the first few weeks. 

But, I think it's fair to say that, if you have grandparents as part of your social circle, as children go back to school, we may want to have a little bit of caution in those first few weeks to make sure that COVID is not spreading in schools, and that the risks continue to be low for our social circle.

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Flanagan: What should parents and guardians be doing to prepare for their child's return to school?

Dr. Dubey: They're going to school for education, and part of the education this time is going to be learning about public health measures; why it's important to wash your hands, how to wear a mask and wear it appropriately, what symptoms to watch for. Preparing your child for those public health measures is going to be really important.  

I think one that's on parents' minds is, how is my child going to manage in class wearing a mask? And that's one that, I think, practicing before school starts, and maintaining that practice to allow a child to feel comfortable. 

User behaviour changes; they're just like getting used to exercising every day. And these will take time to adopt. I think that's a really good way to prepare students for back-to-school.

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Flanagan: Are there particular signs or symptoms that parents should be looking for in their child when they're making the decision on whether to send them to school that day?

Dr. Dubey: Each school is going to have a screening form that will have to be completed at home, or at the door before they enter. every day. And that's going to be really important, and that will have the symptoms that parents should watch for. 

Classically, we talked about fever, cough, or trouble breathing, as the classic symptoms of COVID. But we know now, having a red eye, having a sore throat, actually losing your taste or smell—that's actually a very tell-tale sign of COVID—having any of these kinds of symptoms, even vomiting or diarrhea, can be related to this virus. 

If your child has any of those symptoms, they will need to stay home and seek additional care.

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Flanagan: What would you say to parents that are feeling nervous about sending their children to school?

Dr. Dubey: Well, I think each parent has to make the decision for their child, and there's no one right decision for every child. I mean, it's weighing factors. School is going to be a safer place, but it still won't be without risk with regards to COVID. 

And so, I think you have to ask yourself, can my child follow instructions? How do they learn best? But then, you also have to think about your home environment, about whether there are grandparents, for example, involved, other vulnerable people. 

So, all of those factors have to weigh in to decide whether or not to send your student to school. What I would say, though, is, I can speak very confidently for the school boards in Toronto; they have listened to public health and have adopted the best public health measures. 

So, I can say that school will be a safer place, public health measures will be in place. But I think it's important to stress, it won't be without risk, and so we should expect there will be cases of COVID in the schools.

And so, we also have to be prepared; what that means, how we will address that, what that means for you and your family, for the school, and for the community as well.

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Flanagan: We know vaccinations are always important, regular childhood vaccinations plus flu vaccine. These are going to be even more important this year, is that correct?

Dr. Dubey: That's right. What we're anticipating is, as the fall comes around, we know that respiratory illnesses—as we call them, that's our medical term for coughs, colds, flus that will be spreading—we won't be able to differentiate them by symptoms from COVID. 

And so, as much of those other viruses as we can prevent, it will help to clarify the picture on COVID, and, frankly, prevent the spread of COVID as well. 

And so, the more people that get vaccinated against the flu, the more flu we can prevent. And that will certainly help us keep that health care’s capacity open, but it will also help keep children in school.

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Voice-over: This podcast is brought to you by the Ontario Medical Association. It is produced and edited by Jodi Crawford Productions. This podcast is not intended to provide medical advice for specific situations and is for general educational purposes only. Please consult your doctor if you have symptoms or questions about your health.

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