Press Release / Community

COVID-19 Update 1: To all EMSB stakeholders: Students, Staff, Parents and Community Members

Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Montreal - Sunday, March 8, 2020

On the eve of our return to school / work, I write to extend my sincere best wishes to all as we embark on the final trimester of this 2019-20 academic year.  I hope that everyone has enjoyed their March break week and is rested and ready for the final academic term.

School Trips and Travel Advisories Due to the Coronavirus

I would like to take this opportunity to extend a special note to the students at Westmount High School (WHS), whose trip to Europe was postponed just before their expected departure due to the increasing numbers of Coronavirus cases in the northern area of Italy. To those WHS students (and their parents):  I can only say with all sincerity, that the decision to postpone your trip to Europe was made in the best interest of your health and safety.  And as events of this last week have demonstrated, that decision was both prudent and warranted.  I nonetheless, am very sorry for your inevitable disappointment.

Two other EMSB high schools had trips planned to Europe for the March break:  Royal West Academy (RWA) and Laurier Macdonald High School (LMAC). 

The RWA itinerary avoided Italy from the get-go, and as such, the students were able to leave for Spain and Portugal as planned.  They have returned safely. 

LMAC, whose itinerary originally included several visits to several cities in northern Italy and a return flight to Montreal from Milan, was in jeopardy of being postponed within the last 48 hours prior to departure due to the increasing number of cases of the Coronavirus in that area of Italy.  With only 24 hours left before departure time, changes were able to be made to the itinerary by the travel agency such that students would no longer tour cities in northern Italy. 

A few days ago, when the Canadian government issued a level 3 travel advisory stating that Canadians should avoid all unnecessary travel to northern Italy, the travel agent for the LMAC trip had no choice but to cancel the return flights from Milan and ensure that those students remain at a safe distance from that area.  This flight change from Milan to Zurich nonetheless, came with additional last minute emergency costs.  But I am pleased to report that all of the LMAC students and staff arrived home safely.

You may have heard in the news that a high school from the Beauce region of Quebec, whose students spent time in Italy over the March break, were told by Canadian authorities upon their return that everyone must remain in home-quarantine for the next 14 days.  What is important to note is that the Canadian border officials are scrutinizing where Canadians have been on vacation and are doing their job to ensure our collective safety. 

Gratitude

I would like to thank the Principals, Staff members and Directors at the school board level who, while on March break vacation themselves, gave of their time to accompany the students abroad and / or who worked while on vacation to ensure that our trips abroad returned safely.  Your dedication to our students is much appreciated! 

I would also like to thank the many parents who supported the Principals and Directors who were working with the travel agencies right down to the final 24 hours before departure to make sure that our students and staff would be safe.  I know that it was a difficult situation for all concerned.  Your emails of support and thanks were much appreciated! 

Upcoming trips in April

Several EMSB high schools have planned trips to the United States and other countries. 

The school Principal and Regional Director will follow the Canadian travel advisory reports closely and report any changes to the parents.

To avoid confusion and unnecessary duplication of services, it is important that only the school Principal(s) and Regional Director(s) contact the travel agencies directly. They will communicate any changes to the parents.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The Coronavirus continues to be a serious and frequent topic in world news.   There are many cases reported around the globe. To date, there are only three verified cases in the province of Quebec.

But as Head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated in his speech on March 5thWe’re all responsible for reducing our own risk of infection, and if we’re infected, for reducing our risk of infecting others.” 

He also said that: “The fight against rumours and misinformation is a vital part of the battle against this virus. We rely on you (the press) to make sure people have accurate information about the threat they face, and how to protect themselves and others.” 

We, as the stakeholders of the EMSB: School and board personnel, parents and community members, have the same responsibility.  As such, it is important that we:

  1. know the facts
  2. know how to take appropriate precautions – and teach that to the students
  3. know the symptoms
  4. know what to do if you suspect illness BEFORE going to a hospital or doctor’s office:
Even before going to the hospital or doctor’s office:

Call Info-Santé at 811

The Direction régionale de Santé publique de Montréal will continue to provide the school boards with all necessary guidance and instructions for dealing with this virus; and the EMSB will continue to follow all guidelines and directives that we receive … because the health, safety and well-being of all of our students, staff members and community members is paramount at the EMSB!

What Can / Should the Parents Do?

1)   CLARIFICATION

Unless a student exhibits flue-like symptoms, s/he may attend school.

If a student has (in the last 14 days) travelled to any of the countries listed below, it is strongly recommended that the parents call Info-Santé at 811 and speak to a health care professional.

Info-Santé will ask parents a series of questions. But unless the child has flu-like symptoms, Info-Santé will likely confirm that the student should attend school.

Calling Info-Santé is an additional precaution that is strongly suggested in the spirit of proactive and responsable risk management.

NOTE: This applies to staff as well.

  • China
  • Iran
  • Hong Kong
  • South Korea
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Singapore 

2)   Monitor symptoms. Keep your child at home if s/he exhibits flu symptoms: a cough, sore throat, runny nose and fever  

3)   If your child also has trouble breathing – immediately contact Info-Santé at 811

4)   Talk to your child about the flu and review with him / her:

  • the importance of frequent and proper hand washing
  • and the importance of containing sneezes and coughing
  • review diagrams at the end of this document with your children

5)  Only refer to a reputable government website when seeking information about the Coronavirus

6)  Call Info-Santé if you have any questions BEFORE going to the hospital of a doctor’s office. Tel. #: 811

The Importance of Balancing Precaution versus Panic

It is important to ensure that the children / students know about the Coronavirus at an age appropriate level.  It is also important to ensure that our children / students take all necessary precautions – especially regular and efficient hand-washing.  What we do not want to do is create panic or anxiety.

Younger children / students, as we all know, can be susceptible to worry or anxiety.   So we have to be balanced and pragmatic in our discussions about the coronavirus with them.  Empower them to act responsibly, and re-assure them that their contributions will indeed help.

Health and Safety at the EMSB

The EMSB will work with Montreal’s Santé-Publique office and the Ministry of Education to ensure that all measures and required actions are undertaken to ensure the health and well-being of all of our students and staff.

Info-Letter From the Quebec Ministry of Education

The Quebec Ministry of Education sent an Info-letter to all school board DG’s on Friday, and asked that the information be shared with our community. 

Below is a courtesy translation of the Ministry of Education’s Info-letter.  The original French version will be posted with this Communiqué, and all other relevant documents, will be posted on our EMSB website. 

General information leaflet

Anyone interested in obtaining information about the current situation in Québec regarding COVID-19 is invited to visit the website Québec.ca/coronavirus

As of March 9, 2020, call 1 877 644-4545 if you think you have COVID-19 or would like information about it.

  • People can also call Info-Santé 811 at any time.

General prevention measures

Recognized hygiene measures are recommended for everyone:

  • Wash your hands often with soap under warm running water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
  • Practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette by covering your mouth and nose with your arm to reduce the spread of germs.
  • If you use a tissue, dispose of it as soon as possible and wash your hands afterwards.

Information for travellers

The level of risk for Canadians travelling abroad varies according to the destination. 

For travel advisories for each country, consult the website Québec.ca/coronavirus.

Border measures

At Canadian airports

  • All passengers from countries affected by COVID-19 receive a leaflet detailing the recommendations to follow.
  • Passengers who use automated self-serve kiosks must also answer specific questions about the status of their health and their travel history.

People who have symptoms

  • People who report symptoms at the airport will be assessed by a quarantine officer.
  • Under the Quarantine Act, this officer is authorized to take appropriate measures if there is a potential public health risk, such as ordering the traveller to be taken to hospital for a medical examination.

People who do not have symptoms

  • It is important that people monitor their state of health on returning to the country. There is a possibility they have been in contact with the novel coronavirus while abroad.
  • For 14 days after returning to Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that you monitor your health for any signs of fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
  • If a person has any of these symptoms, they must immediately self-isolate at home and call the relevant public health authorities at once.

Specific recommendations

  • Anyone who has travelled in the last few months to regions of the world where there is a risk of contagion must:
    • Limit their contact with other people for 14 days starting the day they began their return to Canada. This means self-isolating and remaining at home. 
    • Communicate with the local public health authority within 24 hours of returning to Canada.

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