Nfld. & Labrador

Mixed messages about sick kids are confusing, but decisions come down to parents: Haggie

A new school year always means runny nose season, and parents are wondering when to pull their child from classes and what the next steps are.

Parents receiving mixed messages, but John Haggie says it's all up to their discretion

A week into the new school year, parents are already grappling with sniffles, coughs and fevers, and looking for more guidance on keeping kids home. (Mike Moore/CBC)

There's always a spike in runny noses and mild fevers with back-to-school season, but this September, symptoms that may or may not be related to COVID-19 are leaving parents in Newfoundland and Labrador wondering when to pull their kids from classes.

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District's COVID checklist states that children displaying two or more symptoms should stay home from school. 

However, previous information distributed to the schools stated that children displaying one symptom should not come to school. 

Parents have flooded social media, saying they are confused about what to do when their child wakes up feeling unwell, including having the sniffles. 

 Health Minister John Haggie said that decision ultimately comes down to the parent or guardian.

"At the end of the day, you make a conscientious decision based on what you see in front of you," he said. "There is no script for that. That's parenting. That's knowing your child."

At the same time, Haggie emphasized that parents with children who meet a threshold for illness must take appropriate action. 

"If your child is not right and not well, they shouldn't go to school. It's as simple and as complicated as that," he said.

When pressed by reporters after question period Tuesday, Haggie again reiterated that the parents should "do what they feel comfortable with," but did say definitively that if a child displays two or more COVID-19 symptoms, they should stay home. 

"If [parents] feel they need support, 811 is available. They will look at the situation and provide advice. COVID testing may be appropriate, it may be not," Haggie said. 

Health Minister John Haggie says it's up to parents to decide if their child should go to school if they have any symptoms. (CBC)

The confusion has been complicated by a spike in cold and flu symptoms circulating around schools and has left parents and guardians jamming the 811 phone line.

"It's unavoidable. It's just school life," said Jennifer Newhook, mother of two mildly sick children staying home from a St. John's elementary school.

Newhook and many other parents have complained of long waits to get guidance from 811, and an even harder time booking a COVID-19 test to clear their child to return to school.

As a result, she's been forced to isolate at home with her four kids until they test negative.

"My fear is that people are going to simply avoid reporting their symptoms because they cannot manage the disruption to their lives," she said.

Katie Whalen, who has a boy in Grade 1 who came down with cold symptoms, spent two days calling Eastern Health's COVID-19 line to book a test without success. (CBC)

Simple — and complicated

Katie Whalen, who called 811 over the weekend, was told if her child's symptoms dissipated by Monday, it would be safe to send him back to school if she were comfortable with it.

Her son was still sick on Monday, so he didn't go back to school, but Whalen wasn't comfortable with the idea of sending him back without knowing for sure that he didn't have COVID-19.

"Even if they look fine, it doesn't mean that they [are] fine," Whalen said. 

"They could still be spreading the germs and they could have been exposed to the virus. Maybe they haven't been, but there's still that possibility that they could have been exposed to it and they could be carriers."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Here & Now and The St. John's Morning Show


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