Peel Region Public Health is in damage control mode after fierce backlash erupted online over a policy regarding the self-isolation of asymptomatic students after a cohort was sent home.
Children in several school districts that have recently returned to in-school learning have been separated into student cohorts, grouping both students and teachers together. When there is a viral exposure, the entire cohort is dismissed from school and everyone must self-isolate for a 14-day period whether they have symptoms or not.
The lack of clarity on a flyer that was sent home to parents, which suggested children must be isolated from the rest of their family at home, has sparked anger online after it was reported on by the Toronto Sun over the weekend.
On Monday, the Region of Peel issued a mea culpa on its social media accounts admitting it was providing mixed messaging.
“We made a mistake,” it began on a Twitter thread regarding a flyer it sent home to parents on self-isolation after COVID-19 exposure.
“We left out an important detail.”
It continued to explain that anyone exposed to the virus, including children, is directed to self-isolate at home away from others. The direction for the policy, it said, was created by the provincial government and was in place before school began in the fall.
An omission from the flyer that went home with students is that a caregiver may isolate with a child at home to help with daily living, feeding and emotional support. Peel Region officials said that direction was included on its website, but not on the flyer. The website said that only one healthy person should isolate with the child they are providing care for and provides further detail on how to do so safely.
The Twitter account acknowledged the anger and confusion and said a new flyer would be sent out from the region’s school boards this week.
Some online have pointed out there has been similar messaging from other public health units in the region, including Toronto. On Toronto Public Health (TPH)’s lengthy school guidelines, the website provides clarity for situations where a student is required to self-isolate. But it is not immediately clear on the page whether they should be doing so away from their family or under the supervision of a designated caregiver.
On a separate page with advice for self-isolation, TPH made no mention of caregivers for students. It also directed people to the Public Health Ontario website, which encourages people to avoid contact with others and again and omits any mention of special circumstances for children.
A spokesperson with Public Health Ontario said the agency wouldn’t expect children to isolate alone for two weeks but instead encouraged parents and caregivers to take normal precautions. The spokesperson said staff will be following up with Ontario’s 34 regional public health units.