OMA Spotlight on Health

Advice to Parents on Back to School with Public Health Physician

September 04, 2020 Ontario Medical Association Season 1 Episode 30
OMA Spotlight on Health
Advice to Parents on Back to School with Public Health Physician
Show Notes Transcript

This year, back to school is more stressful than normal and parents are making very difficult decisions when it comes to children returning to classes. This episode focuses on what advice 5 Medical Officers of Health from across Ontario would give to parents.

Dr. Vinita Dubey, Associate Medical Officer of Health at Toronto Public Health
Dr. Sarah Funnell, Associate Medical Officer of Health at Ottawa Public Health
Dr. Alex Summers, Associate Medical Officer of Health at Middlesex London Health Unit
Dr. Hamidah Meghani, Medical Officer of Health at Halton Region Public Health
Dr. Marlene Spruyt, Medical Officer of Health at Algoma Public Health

OMA Podcast Episode 30 - Advice to Parents on Back to School with Public Health Physician

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

Dr. Funnell: I'm Dr. Sarah Funnel, I'm an Associate Medical Officer of Health at Ottawa Public Health. 

Dr. Summers: Dr. Alex Summers. I'm the Associate Medical Officer of Health at the Middlesex-London Health Unit, and a specialist in public health and preventive medicine.

Dr. Meghani: I'm Dr. Hamidah Meghani, Medical Officer of Health for Halton Region Public Health.

Dr. Spruyt: And I'm Dr. Marlene Spruyt and Medical Officer of Health for Algoma District based in Sault Ste. Marie. 

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

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Flanagan: This year back-to-school is more stressful than normal. We know that parents are making very difficult decisions. What is your advice to parents who are nervous or unsure about whether it's safe to send their child or 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. 

Dr. Funnell: As a parent, I recognize that nervousness. This is an unprecedented time across the world. We've—we've never experienced anything like this before.

Dr. Summers: I really want to recognize that any parent would feel anxious this September, in the midst of what is scary and threatening, such as a pandemic. The number one concern you will have is for the health of that child, and that is a normal thing to be fretful about.

Dr. Meghani: I can certainly understand how anxiety-provoking this time is for everyone.

Dr. Spruyt: This is a really, really hard decision for parents to make, I can appreciate it. My son's in university, so I'm not as challenged, but if I had young children, I'm sure I would be sleepless for a number of nights working through whether you think this is safe.

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Dr. Meghani: I think to reach their full potential, our children really need the learning and socializing that in-school education provides. We know attending class is good for their education, it's good for their well-being, and it's good for the whole family.

After months of isolation, where possible, our children really do need to be with their peers and their teachers. They need to be able to play, learn and socialize in as safe an environment as possible.

I think it's important for parents to understand that there is no risk-free option. Sending your child to school may increase the risk of getting COVID-19. On the other hand, keeping your child at home may also increase the risk of interrupting their social, emotional, and developmental well-being. As I mentioned before, there is no right decision, only what's right for each individual family.

Dr. Spruyt: They will have to make that choice, whether their child will benefit more from social interaction with other children— which is another really important part of childhood development, and the main reason that we do feel we have to open schools.

We can't continue to have our children, all our children, at home learning remotely. That doesn't work for some kids, and kids really need to socialize with other children of their own age, learn to problem solve. We're just going to have to support those children a lot more over the next few months, and how to do that as safely as we can.

Dr. Funnell: And as a parent, I recognize that it's important for our kids to get back to school. But at the same time, I recognize that this school year is going to be different. It's going to come with some inconveniences, and we have to be prepared for that.

So, the inconvenience of keeping a child home when they have a sniffle, having them tested for COVID—that's inconvenient. But that's the safest thing to do.

So, this year is just going to be a lot different than other years. And, it's weighing the importance of education and the importance of health, to make this year the best year we can possibly make out of a very difficult situation.

Dr. Dubey: 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.

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Dr. Dubey: 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.

Dr. Meghani: As we open up more opportunities for people to gather in the community in places like schools, we will certainly see cases of COVID-19. It's simply not possible to prevent all cases of COVID-19. What we can do is work together as a community to try to contain outbreaks and minimize the most severe outcomes. Everyone's situation is different and the decision to send kids to school in person needs to be one that works for each individual family.

Dr. Funnell: As well, when a child in the class, maybe, become infected with COVID, that's going to be inconvenient for all of us, in that our kids might have to stay home from school for a couple weeks.

Dr. Summers: It's important to know that there will be cases of COVID-19 in schools; it's going to happen. But we also know that we can respond really quickly to it. We have to make sure we maximize physical distance, we have to wear masks, we have to wash hands, we have to stay home when we're sick. We have to do all of those things, but we also have to go and learn.

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Dr. Spruyt: Each family needs to look at its individual circumstances. Do they have vulnerable people in the household? Is their child have medical problems that might make them at higher risk?

Dr. Summers: And even though you're going back to school, this doesn't mean that we start to socialize in the same way that we used to when we're not in school. It's what we do outside of the classroom, actually, that will make the biggest difference in reducing community transmission.

Dr. Funnell: And, ensuring a safe return to school means that we have to be COVID wise, protect ourselves and others from transmission—which really starts in your own home and in the community outside of school.

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Dr. Dubey: 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.

Dr. Meghani: When it comes to the school setting, if there was to be a positive COVID-19 case in a school, public health is ready and prepared. We've been managing infectious diseases in the school system as part of our ongoing work for many decades. With any infectious disease, public health will work very quickly using case and contact management and other measures to prevent further transmission.

Dr. Summers: As public health and as schools, we have dealt with outbreaks of infectious diseases in schools before, and we're actually really good at getting them under control.

We've dealt with hepatitis A outbreaks, we've dealt with pertussis outbreaks, and we've managed them. We've managed them because we work really closely together. We try and communicate openly with parents. We try to get out there and make sure that we are doing what we need to do. And, as public health and as a public health physician, that's my expertise.

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Dr. Spruyt: Minimize your contact with other people, stay six feet apart, wash your hands frequently.

Dr. Dubey: Maintain a physical distance as much as possible. Wear a mask. 

Dr. Funnell: Distance from people, wearing masks, washing your hands, keeping that social circle really small, and not going places when you're sick. And that includes not going to school when you're sick.

Dr. Meghani: So, it's important that families stay safe, stay informed, and be kind over the next few weeks as our school communities come together after many months of being closed.

Dr. Summers: For parents that are nervous out there, I get it. There are people out there who are working really, really hard to make sure that this is as safe as it can be.

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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.

For more information, please visit our website at

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