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Coronavirus public health Q&A with Dr. Vinita Dubey (Aug 11)

Last Updated Oct 18, 2020 at 5:50 pm EDT

We know you have questions about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and we’re working to get you the answers, straight from the most trusted sources.

Toronto’s Associate Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vinita Dubey, answered your COVID-19 related questions in a LIVE video interview here on our website and on our Facebook page on August 11.

Here are a few questions Dr. Dubey addressed:

(Questions were moderated and have been edited for grammar, punctuation and clarity)

Q: Parents are concerned about the lack of ventilation and not enough space in classrooms for their children in schools to socially distance, as well as different teachers coming in and out of class all day. How are schools going to mitigate all of these risks for children opting for in-person learning?
A: My first step would be to find out from the school what their plans are.

If it’s a publicly funded school board, they have had to review their plans with the Ministry of Education and have had to have their plans approved. And so you’ll see with the two English school boards in Toronto, that in high schools they’ve required that there be smaller classes of 15 students.

With the elementary students, they have not changed the class size — and that’s certainly something that we think is important. We think it’s important to have physical distance in those elementary school grades. So we’ll have to wait and see on that point.

There are a lot of other measures that the school boards have put in place that are very good ones. For example, cohorts. The idea behind a cohort is to keep your child with a set of students and they don’t mix and mingle with other people in the school. And so if they’re exposed to someone who has COVID, it’s just that group that you have to be concerned with that could go in isolation.

The idea of teachers coming in and out of a classrooms — that can actually be done in a safer way. Teachers can probably maintain that physical distance easier and wear protective equipment that will prevent the spread as well. So there’s a lot of other layers of protection.

For grades four and up it is recommended to wear a mask and for JK to grade three, we strongly recommend that those children wear a mask as well. The enhanced cleaning and disinfection in schools is important as well.

The one thing that we’ve talked about here is the screening before you send your kid to school — make sure that they don’t have symptoms. If every parent ensures that and we keep track of that for staff as well, that is a very important public health measure that was not in place before COVID.

So there are a number of measures that the public school boards have put in place. We’ve also put out guidelines just this week on our website for schools that are not publicly funded to make sure that they follow these precautions as well.

Q: How is the social bubble of 10 different from a school cohort where there are up to 27 kids in one class? Is a teacher’s cohort also part of their social bubble?
A: The social bubble is you plus nine other people who you can have close contact with. And usually it’s your household members and maybe other family members or friends.

In your social bubble, when you interact with your family members, you don’t need to wear a mask because we’ve decided for those 10 people, you can be close to them. But in all other encounters, you wear protection.

For the classroom, we call it a cohort. It’s the same idea, but it’s those students who are in your classroom, who we recognize in the classroom will not be able to keep that physical distance at all times, but will not be mixing and mingling with other cohorts.

Further, the teacher will be able to wear personal protective equipment and so a teacher will be required and should definitely be wearing their mask. We’ve heard that teachers will be provided medical masks, which will provide extra protection for the students and for themselves. So, that cohort that they have, while they will have closer contact, they will be wearing personal protective equipment. I always give the analogy just like when I go to the emergency department, I wear protective equipment — and so that doesn’t become a bubble for me, because I’m protected.

Plus, the teachers are required to maintain that physical distance between themselves and other teachers. So that does not become a cohort — the teachers themselves. And we see this actually in all workplaces that, you can be following your public health precautions with your customers for example, making sure that you keep that distance and then you go back in the lunchroom and then you have lunch with one of your colleagues and that’s what we do not want. So we do not want teachers to have a social circle with other teachers or to make an extra social circle, not, not at all.

Q: Do you believe that kids in grade four can wear masks in schools for five hours and is that healthy for them?
A: We actually recommend that kids have mask-free breaks. I don’t think that wearing a mask for five hours is something that we should expect. It’s going to be very tough to do that.

So taking mask-free breaks where you take your mask off while you’re outside for recess, maybe you’re having one of your subjects outside as a classroom — those are measures that we have actually recommended because we recognize that it will be very difficult for kids to wear a mask continuously and to wear it properly for that long.

Q: Is the “mingle” mask — a clear plastic moulded mask — recognized by the ministry of health?
A: The studies have not shown that a mask like that is effective. What they have shown is that a cloth mask or nonmedical disposable mask is effective. Actually, the more layers in the cloth cloth mask, the better. If you had a cloth mask made up of 12 layers, it would give you the same protection as a medical mask, which is quite fascinating.

So those plastic masks, they haven’t necessarily been studied. You have to think about how you’re going to clean them. I think that’s a really important point because if there are nooks and crannies in there your germs can get stuck in there and then it can actually be hazardous. You’re wearing that mask every day. You’re cleaning it. You think you’re cleaning it well and it might not be effective. So I would not recommend that mask as it is not equivalent to the cloth mask or non-medical mask.

Watch the full interview with web writer Dilshad Burman in conversation with Dr. Vinita Dubey in the video above.

Scroll through the questions submitted to this session below.

Note: questions were moderated before appearing in the chat window