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An ‘eye-opening’ experience: How MGH is transforming local educators into IPAC champions
When Lisa Tsue, a special education resource teacher at Grenoble Public School, tested positive for COVID-19 in December, she began reading more about the virus so she could better protect herself, her colleagues and her students.
So when she received the opportunity to participate in an infection prevention and control (IPAC) training course for educators in January, she says it was an easy decision to say yes.
“I thought it was fantastic,” Lisa says. “We would be partnered up with infectious diseases professionals from Michael Garron Hospital and learn directly from them, as opposed to having to wade through various directives online and what we hear from the media.”
Lisa was one of 10 educators at Grenoble P.S. who participated in the IPAC Champion program, a pilot initiative that offers individuals who work at schools a crash course in IPAC best practices and principles.
The program is offered by Michael Garron Hospital’s (MGH) school-based outreach team led by Dr. Janine McCready, infectious diseases physician at MGH. It’s adapted from an IPAC Champion program that MGH conducted with long-term care homes in East Toronto during spring 2020.
As part of the IPAC Champion program, Lisa and her colleagues attended virtual training sessions over a two-week period. There, they received comprehensive information about COVID-19, including the different ways it may be transmitted and how COVID-19 tests work.
They also learned information about what areas in schools are considered “high touch” and require more frequent sanitation; how to arrange a classroom to encourage physical distancing among students; and the importance of well-fitting masks for students.
Armed with this knowledge, these individuals are now able to serve as advocates or “champions” of IPAC at Grenoble P.S. This helps ensure staff are better able to protect themselves, their colleagues and their students during the pandemic.
“I really appreciated how they broke everything down and how explicit they were when communicating the nuances of these different practices and principles,” Lisa says of the program. “Particularly with the mask-wearing, we learned that just having students wear a mask isn’t enough. The masks need to fit properly and they need to be worn, removed and disposed of appropriately. These are things that aren’t necessarily discussed by public health officials day to day, but they’re really important for people who work in school settings to know.”
Staff at Grenoble P.S. who completed MGH’s IPAC Champion program include administrators, teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 6, and a Slovak-speaking member of the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) support staff. Mikki Hymus, principal at Grenbole P.S., also participated in the program.
Mikki says Dr. McCready originally reached out to Grenoble P.S. in the fall to ask how MGH could support them in their reopening for in-person learning. She says she asked Dr. McCready to conduct a Q&A with staff at the time so they could have their safety-related questions and concerns addressed by a medical professional. Mikki says, since then, MGH has continued to support the school.
“Dr. McCready reached out to offer that helping hand and we grabbed hold and did not let go,” she says.
Mikki says the staff at Grenoble P.S. have remained dedicated to showing up for their students and one another during the pandemic. She says the IPAC Champion program has now given them the knowledge they need to work together to develop and improve strategies that further prevent and limit the spread of COVID-19 at schools.
“Our opening and reopening procedures are based on guidelines provided by TDSB and public health. But, as many educators will know, there are some situations concerning safety where it’s not so black and white,” Mikki says. “So this program has really given us a deeper understanding of the principles of IPAC and how we can apply these to create an individualized approach that works for our unique school setting, community, students and staff.”
Since September, Dr. McCready has also served as a medical point of contact for Grenoble P.S. and other schools in East Toronto that MGH has reached out to. Educators like Mikki regularly contact Dr. McCready when they need advice or have questions on IPAC practices at school.
In addition, MGH was able to supply Grenoble P.S. with hundreds of child-sized masks in February, when it was recommended that students start bringing two masks to school so they’re able to change into a fresh one if the other becomes damp or soiled.
“That two-mask recommendation was a big barrier for many families in our community,” Mikki says. “So the fact that the team at MGH was able to support us on this — and ensure that all our students had the tools they need to remain safe — was huge.”
More recently, MGH’s school-based outreach team provided Grenoble P.S. with take-home COVID-19 testing kits as part of a pilot program that helps ensure testing is as easy as possible for students and their families. MGH hopes to expand both the IPAC Champion program and take-home testing kit program to other schools in East Toronto that are interested.
Mikki says schools that have the opportunity to take part in the IPAC Champion program shouldn’t wait. “I would tell them to jump up and down and say ‘Pick me, pick me!’” Mikki says. “It will improve your staff’s ability to work as a team within your school so, together, you can tighten up your safety practices and look at what you can be doing better.”
“It was a really positive, eye-opening experience,” adds Lisa. “Dr. McCready and her team are a wealth of knowledge. Now that they’ve been able to pass on some of this knowledge to us, we can hopefully help limit COVID-19 transmission and ensure the safety of everyone at Grenoble.”