As thousands of children return to classrooms for a back-to-school season like no other, a public-health team from CIUSSS West-Central Montreal is helping smooth the way by ensuring the best preparation possible to fight the spread of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Prevention Team from our CIUSSS is comprised of professionals who are providing support and guidance to hundreds of schools, daycares, places of worship and community groups during the coronavirus pandemic.
Team members such as Mika Joseph, a School Nurse Clinician, are helping schools navigate the enormous task of educating children in a safe environment during a global health crisis.
“Our role is to support our schools and help them get through COVID,” says Ms. Joseph, who is with the Healthy Schools Program. “They have to know they’re not alone in facing this challenge. We’re there to accompany them.”
The prevention team, part of Frontline Integrated Services, acts as a bridge between Montreal’s regional public health department and the institutions on the ground that have to apply its guidelines. This means partnering with principals or vice-principals to help them lower the risks of spreading the virus – and supporting them in the event an outbreak occurs.
By Sept. 10, the Prevention Team had already contacted 80 per cent of schools within the CIUSSS. The challenge was considerable: Our CIUSSS is home to nearly 150 elementary and high schools.
“This demonstrates that we’re ready to face a second wave and that our teams are stepping up to the plate,” says Valérie Lahaie, Coordinator – Public Health and Partnership for CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. “I’m very proud of the work we’ve accomplished.”
The staffers—nurses, social workers, physical therapists and others—address the ABCs of coronavirus prevention, with a checklist to ensure the schools are ready. Are signs for hand-washing areas visible on the walls? Are teachers able to socially distance in their lounge areas? Will bottlenecks be prevented inside hallways once kids are let out of class?
Other topics include the schools’ disinfection strategies for high-touch areas such as door handles and light switches, and protocols if a student shows symptoms of COVID-19.
After completing the initial call, the team makes itself available for follow-ups.
“Our challenge is to reach everyone,” says Ludmilla Duplessis, Administration Chief, Healthy Schools Program. “We have to reassure them as they resume classes.”
Each member of the team has received training, and they come with a proven track record. The public-health team worked hand-in-hand through the summer with about 520 daycare operators in our CIUSSS, as they welcomed their first pre-schoolers during the pandemic.
Some questions boiled down to basics—for instance, whether a childcare worker could give a crying toddler a comforting hug (they could, as long as they were wearing a mask and face shield or protective glasses).
“Most people appreciated our calls and were really happy to speak to us. I found it very rewarding,” says Hélène Mongeon, who placed about 250 calls. She hoped that by supporting daycares, her team was also extending help to families that placed children in their care. “I hope we also helped families through all this, by minimizing infection rates,” said the CLSC Registered Nurse with the Children, Families and Youth Program.
Cristiana Anghelescu, who oversaw the COVID-19 Prevention Team’s daycare strategy, called it a colossal task. “The team was gold. Without their work we wouldn’t have been able to reach all of the daycares,” says the Administration Chief of the Children, Families and Youth Program.
Carrying on with life’s rituals isn’t easy during a pandemic, but the COVID-19 Prevention Team sets out to make it a little more manageable. Having worked closely with daycares, Ms. Joseph is now eager to turn her attention to schools. “I know that schools can count on us,” she says, “and that we’ll be able to help.”