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About Sickkids
About SickKids

August 13, 2020

SickKids launching simulation study to assess impact of school-reopening health and safety measures

As schools prepare for the beginning of the new school year, many educators, parents and researchers are interested in learning more about ways to support or enhance the safety and well-being of students and faculty, and to better understand the impact of a modified environment and health and safety measures on potential infectious risks.

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is leading a research study, taking place August 19 – 20, that will look 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.

This research aims to understand what factors need to be considered when implementing mandatory mask use in children and adolescents; specifically, whether the use of masks could potentially lead to behaviours that have been associated with increased risk of infection. The research team will observe other preventative behaviours (physical distancing and hand hygiene practices) and ask teachers and students to complete questionnaires about various health and safety measures.

This pilot study will be conducted at The Bishop Strachan School and Upper Canada College, in collaboration with Branksome Hall and The Sterling Hall School. Participation, however, is not limited to students who attend the above schools. The study is open to any Greater Toronto Area (GTA) students enrolled at public or other independent schools who meet the participation criteria. Families may also participate with children/teens of various ages and from different schools. By using broad enrolment criteria, we anticipate the data around masking will be generalizable to other schools. We plan to collaborate further with a broader group of public schools to address additional questions after the start of the school year.

To learn more about the study, visit www.safeschoolcovid19.ca

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are you conducting the study in independent schools and not public schools?
Generating evidence to fill COVID-19 knowledge gaps is a major priority for researchers around the world and this has led to expedited research to ensure the public is getting reliable, rapid results. The COVID-19 safe school simulation study will have important implications for the start of school, so we needed to use the school space that was readily available before September. This will ensure we can get the results out to the public as soon as possible. We hoped to conduct the study in public schools during the summer. We now are planning additional research studies in public schools in the fall. The current study is open to any GTA students enrolled at public or other independent schools who meet the participation criteria as well as teachers from both the independent and public school systems.

Will the results of the study be valid for public schools?

We believe the results from this study can help inform health and safety measures in public and independent schools. We recognize there are important differences between public and independent schools, and we are working closely with public school teachers to replicate the typical public school environment as much as possible. We also recognize that each physical school environment, even between public schools, vary widely across Ontario. In this study, we are primarily addressing health behaviours of children and adolescents rather than the specific environmental space.

Why are you conducting this study after publishing your guidance for school reopening?
Updated COVID-19: Guidance for School Reopening is a living document that will be updated as new, relevant evidence emerges from around the world. As an academic health sciences centre, we are committed to conducting rigorous scientific research to answer many of the questions we have about COVID-19 and children. The results from this study may help inform future updates to the document.

Will there be enough time to translate the study results to the classroom?
Similar to other institutions, schools will likely need to adjust their health and safety measures as they progress into the school year, depending on the community spread of COVID-19 and as new evidence emerges. We hope the results from this study will stimulate discussion among education sector decision-makers as they continuously evaluate health and safety measures in schools.

How will you mitigate risk to staff and students who participate in the study?
We will be testing all participants for COVID-19 in the 24-48 hours prior to the simulation. While not mandatory, all participants will be asked to self-isolate after getting tested to further minimize the risk of exposure before the simulation. Participants will also be completing daily screening to ensure that they don’t have signs or symptoms of COVID-19. A variety of health and safety measures will be implemented as required by the Ministry of Education, including screening, hand hygiene, cleaning and physical distancing.

This study has been approved by SickKids Research Ethics Board. It is supported by Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Education. Ensuring the integrity of research conducted by SickKids investigators is a top priority.

How can I participate in the study?
Please visit the study website at www.safeschoolcovid19.ca and fill in the contact form.