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Ontario backs isolation of potentially exposed children, but says 'common sense' needed

Ontario's Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, takes part in a news conference in Toronto on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020.
Ontario's Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, takes part in a news conference in Toronto on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020.

The Ontario government says parents need to use “common sense” when it comes to isolating children who have been dismissed from class or childcare because they may have been exposed to COVID-19. But health officials apparently believe it’s still best for kids to be completely isolated alongside one caregiver and then for both of them to be kept away from the rest of the family.

“We know that if somebody may have COVID-19 we would like them to be isolated for up to 14 days,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, at a news conference on Monday. “However, we obviously understand that you can’t leave a child alone. You have to use common sense.”

Yaffe offered no insights as to what the government’s interpretation of common sense might entail.

The comments come after Peel Region Health apologized for issuing previous guidelines to parents that instruct them to isolate their children, even small ones, completely alone from anyone else for 14 days.

“Anyone exposed to COVID-19 is directed to self-isolate at home away from others in the home as much as possible. That includes children,” says one part of the social media apology post from the Region of Peel. “For children, we know that a caregiver may need to isolate with them to help with daily living, such as bathing, feeding, clothing and emotional support.”

While Yaffe said at the news conference that parents should consult with local public health units for specific guidance, the Region of Peel passed the buck back to the province saying in their posts that the broader directive about children and self-isolating “was set by the Province.”

Yaffe and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams have previously maintained that contract tracing reveals there has hardly been any in-class transmission at schools. The Sun brought up this point and asked why children would then even need to be kept indoors for 14 days and away from most family members when the likelihood of them having actually caught the virus from another child is, according to the government’s own statements, extremely small.

In response, Yaffe blamed recent concerns about the new variants. “We want to be extra careful and make sure we minimize spread,” said Yaffe, in defending the need for children to self-isolate.

This answer isn’t enough for Dr. Martha Fulford, an assistant professor at McMaster and infectious diseases physician at Hamilton Health Sciences, who focuses on paediatrics.

“I would certainly not dispute the need for quarantine when deemed necessary. However, as it stands, the current policies appear to be explicitly advocating for the isolation of children, including young children,” says Fulford.

“There are ways that one can quarantine without it being so incredibly harmful to children. And one obvious place to start is to let kids play outside,” added Fulford. “The risk of transmission outdoors is vanishingly low.”

Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s medical officer of health, responded to the controversy at a separate Monday news conference by saying their guidelines were “an error made on a communication product” which “has since been removed and is currently being revised.”

However, the specific guidance sent to parents from other public health units across Ontario still calls for kids to be kept at home and away from others as much as possible.

For example, Wellington-Dufferin Guelph Public Health’s guidelines sent out to “children/staff who are high risk contacts” of confirmed positive COVID-19 case “must remain home and self-isolate for 14 days.” They then refer to a Public Health Ontario guideline which says: “As much as possible, stay in a separate room away from other people in your home and use a separate bathroom if you have one.”

The question answered by Dr. Loh was initially put to Ontario Premier Doug Ford. But Ford referred the question to Heath Minister Christine Elliott, who, in turn, referred the question to Dr. Loh.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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