Researchers and clinicians from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) led a study on August 19 and 20, 2020, looking at the effects of physical distancing, masking, hand hygiene and other health and safety measures for students and teachers returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic. While formal results are not yet available, the researchers and teachers involved in the study have compiled preliminary observations and key learnings from their experiences running simulated school days.
“Management of the COVID-19 pandemic has been very complex and filled with tremendous anxiety. As health-care providers and parents, we can empathize with the teachers, school staff, school boards and the education sector as a whole, who are now facing a great deal of uncertainty,” says Dr. Michelle Science, Co-Principal Investigator of the study and Staff Physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at SickKids. “As the school year progresses, sharing key learnings and best practices from simulations or real-world experiences could help enhance everyone’s safety measures. Having the flexibility to adjust these safety measures will strengthen our collective response to COVID-19.”
The simulation included over 190 students and 15 teachers from both public and independent schools. Students of all ages attended the simulations, which included in-classroom learning, lunch, recess and parent/caregiver pick-up and drop-off. All students were required to submit a paper screening tool asking about COVID-19 symptoms at the start of each school day.
The researchers and teachers discussed their initial observations and shared their key learnings with school boards and public health authorities to inform back-to-school planning.
“As the return to school has already started, teachers across the province are likely learning, or have already learned, the same observations we made,” says Dr. Clyde Matava, Co-Principal Investigator of the study, Staff Anesthesiologist and Associate Chief of Perioperative Services, Department of Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, SickKids. “We hope the wide release of these initial findings will foster conversations between stakeholders to share invaluable knowledge about school safety that can only be gleaned from real-world settings.”
The study team is analyzing data and planning a peer reviewed publication in the near future. The initial observations below have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal and are meant to serve as helpful considerations for schools and school boards.