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Families will need to re-evaluate their social bubbles once the kids go back to school

Families will need to re-evaluate their social bubbles once the kids go back to school
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TORONTO -- Months after welcoming friends and family members, including grandparents, back into your social bubble, experts say you may have to reconsider who your children have close contact with once they go back to school.

Despite falling infection rates and ongoing discussions about how to make the return to class safe for both students and teachers, health experts warn that reintroducing kids to group environments during a pandemic will come with inherent risks.

“People have taken tremendous care to form their social bubbles, and that involved a lot of careful conversation and shared decision making which resulted in a mutual understanding of who everyone was and what their individual risk hazards were,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTVNews.ca by phone Wednesday.

“Going back to school can certainly alter those decisions."

Bogoch notes that the decision of who to include in your inner circle hinges on both personal risk perception and the rate of infection within your community—factors that can rapidly change as the pandemic continues.

“If there’s someone within that bubble who is at greater risk of having a severe outcome, or if someone is just uncomfortable with being a potential close contact to a child who’s at school, those bubbles need to be re-evaluated,” he suggested, noting that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.

But other experts are inclined to take a more cautious approach, noting that the reopening of schools in other countries has led to isolated breakouts of COVID-19.

“People who are at high risk must stay away from children at least for a couple of weeks—even a month—until we get a good sense of what is happening in that space,” Dr. Iris Gorfinkel, a family physician and medical researcher told CTVNews.ca by phone Wednesday.

“The fact is we don’t know until we get there.”

Gorfinkel notes that although children and teens are considered less likely than adults to suffer severe cases of COVID-19, they can still carry and spread the virus to others.

“There’s no question that high school kids can infect other people. And although younger children seem to be less likely to contract the virus, there’s a whole question about kids who do get COVID-19,” she said.

“Are they going to turn into long haulers? We don’t even know the answer to that.”

Because of these unknown factors, Gorfinkel suggests that children and teens forgo visiting their elderly grandparents, especially those in care homes, until there is a better sense of how the virus might spread within school settings.

“The consequences on the other side are just too great. It’s not worth the hug,” she said.

The family physician also recommends that social bubbles be expanded in phases, similar to provincial reopening phases, once there is a better sense of the spread of the COVID-19 come fall.

PARENTS SHOULD BECOME ADVOCATES FOR A SAFE RETURN TO SCHOOL

Bogoch adds that parents who are concerned about their kids returning to the classroom should become advocates within their own communities, lobbying the schools directly with their concerns about physical distancing and health measures.

“Parents should be looking at the school their children will be going to. Because, at the end of the day, you’ve got some policy that’s at the provincial level, but the rubber hits the wall at the level of the school,” Bogoch said Wednesday on CTV’s Your Morning.

“It’s really important for parents to reach out to those schools and discuss with the leaders, the principal or administrators of the school, how those policies are going to be integrated at the school level and what it’s going to look like for their kids as they go back to school.”
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