TORONTO - One way to build public trust is for government officials and health experts to have a clear and consistent communication strategy. When that breaks down you are left with uncertainty, frustration and public outrage.
This is exactly what happened when Peel Region Public Health (covering Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon) sent out a confusing and upsetting message. It advised parents what to do in the event their child was sent home from school following potential exposure to Covid-19.
The flyer (in the pic), distributed among Peel Region schools, stated that “the child must self-isolate” in a separate room and away from all other family members for 14 days. Community members were outraged. The message appeared to suggest “cruel confinement” of small children in a room all by themselves. The word “incarceration” comes to mind.
The handout neglected to contain information that a caregiver may also isolate with the child during the quarantine period. Earlier this week, Peel Health issued a tweet saying, “we made a mistake”, following public outcry to the cruel messaging.
A spokesperson from Peel Health told the Corriere in an email: “We regret the omission of an important detail in a flyer to parents and guardians about self-isolation following dismissal from school after a COVID-19 exposure”.
Assurances were made by Peel Region that “the flyer is being fixed”. A new handout is to be shared with parents and guardians that reflect the Region’s official position which has always been available on their website.
The spokesperson clarified saying, “we fully recognize that children are typically unable to self-isolate without the help of a caregiver”. Public Health has advised that should anyone be exposed to Covid-19, that person should self-isolate and stay away from other members in the home. In their response, Peel Public Health did offer that a caregiver may isolate with the child to “ensure their physical and emotional needs are met during the self-isolation period”.
Peel Region has consistently been one of the “hot spot” areas for Covid-19 cases. The region remains in the provincial “lockdown” with household transmission a significant source of infection. As of February 25, 43.4% of all cases in the Region are associated with exposure within the home.
Medical experts have drawn attention to the negative impacts of Covid-19 on children’s mental health and well-being. It is worth reminding that to minimize the spread of infection, schools have been closed for months at a time; children forced out of classrooms. Further isolation from their essential support network (family) could have significant consequences. In Peel, school or childcare settings represent 0.7% of all cases in the region.
Every child is entitled to a safe, healthy and loving environment in which to live and grow. Parents and guardians are responsible for carrying out those essentials. It is no surprise when families strongly object to government or medical officials who offer advice or directives that contradict those innate nurturing traits.
To keep any child locked up, away from other human contact could be seen as child abuse.
The organization, Parents as First Educators (PAFE) suggested that if parents were to undertake these types of measures prior to pandemic, “an intervention from Child Family Services would certainly have been called for”.