Public Health reporting practices for confirmed cases and outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools

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MANITOULIN – With students back in school, Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) is advising of its public reporting practices for confirmed cases and outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools and related settings, such as before/after school programs, transportation and extracurricular settings.

“Our commitment remains to keep our communities informed, protect individual privacy, and maintain transparency, while protecting the health of our communities,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health with PHSD. “When publicly reporting confirmed cases and outbreaks of COVID-19 in school settings, we will strike a balance between providing relevant information that people need to protect their health and be informed, and an individual’s right to privacy.”

Reporting a COVID-19 case in a school setting

To protect the privacy of individuals, Public Health will not routinely identify the school if a case is confirmed in a school setting. Public Health will conduct timely case and contact follow up and work closely with the school to determine next steps. If individuals are identified as close contact of a case in a school setting, Public Health will contact them/their parent or guardian directly and provide direction.

If parents have questions related to their child’s school, they can contact the school board or school directly. School boards and schools are required to post information if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 that involves a student or a staff member. Public Health will support schools to ensure everyone has the information they need.

PHSD will continue to report the testing date, exposure category, status and area of all confirmed cases COVID-19 in its service area. Generally, Public Health only publicly releases information that may identify an individual if the release of that information was required to protect others from a communicable disease. In line with that practice, Public Health will no longer publicly report the age group and sex of any individual case of COVID-19. Its detailed epidemiology summary will continue to include age group and sex data to identify trends, but this information will no longer be reported at an individual level.

Reporting a COVID-19 outbreak in a school

In the instance of a confirmed COVID-19 outbreak in a school, Public Health will publicly report the outbreak, will identify the affected school and will describe any closures that have resulted from the outbreak. An outbreak in a school will be declared if there are two or more cases of COVID-19 in a 14-day period that have some link with each other, and with evidence that infection occurred at the school. Public Health will post information online about outbreaks of COVID-19 in Sudbury and districts, including, for example, the school name and date the outbreak was declared.

Schools and school boards are required to communicate details regarding any closures to their school communities. If parents have questions about what is happening in their school, they should contact the school board or school directly.

PHSD is reminding the public that now, more than ever, we need to recommit to COVID-19 prevention. Monitor and screen for symptoms of COVID-19. Anyone with at least one COVID-19 symptom should consider testing. If parents need support, they should seek advice from their health care provider or use the online self-assessment tool. Get tested, if testing is advised. 

PHSD has created a schools and COVID-19 webpage, which will be updated routinely with new resources, information, and current guidance, and the Government of Ontario has launched a webpage to report COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres. For more information or if you have questions, please visit phsd.ca/COVID-19 or call PHSD at 705-522-9200 (toll-free 1-866-522-9200).