TIMMINS -- Public Health officials in Ontario are issuing warnings to families about their March Break travel plans as concerns rise over the spread of COVID-19.

In Timmins, District School Board Ontario North East (DSBONE) sent a letter to parents this week, advising them to keep up-to-date with federal travel advisories and to seek information from provincial and regional health units about how to avoid contracting the virus.

The school board’s director of education Lesleigh Dye says it is following the lead of local, provincial and national health officials on how to respond to the growing impact of the virus.

"It’s a family decision about why or where they may travel," Dye said. "We’re simply trying to make sure that our families have the best information at their fingertips to make a very informed decision."

March Break Travel school board


Preparing for COVID-19 in the north

Confirmation of a Sudbury man diagnosed with the virus hasn’t changed the school board’s approach, Dye says, but does bring a heightened awareness of its reach and making sure people are informed about how to stay safe.

In the event that the cases of COVID-19 continue to escalate, Dye says DSBONE has a draft pandemic plan in place that it will bring to its board of trustees on March 24 for review. The plan will enforce personal hygiene, keeping facilities clean and taking advice from health officials regarding potential school closures.

At this point, Dye says quarantines and school closures are not on the table since the situation hasn’t reached that level of concern.

Other school boards in the Timmins area either haven’t yet sent out letters to families concerning COVID-19 or plan to send out letters by the end of the week.

Cruise cancellations, travellers concerned

As for travel, Leanne Catherwood, senior travel advisor at Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s Timmins location, said her location is experiencing some cancellations for its cruise packages and is receiving customer calls concerned about the status of their travel plans due to the virus.

"As of (March 11), Air Canada has cancelled flights to Italy,” Catherwood said. "People still travelling to the Caribbean is still a 'go,' people travelling to the States are still going."

Leanne Catherwood Calson Wagonlit Travel

Catherwood advises travellers to frequently check their airline’s website for cancellations or delays, as well as the Canadian government’s website for travel advisories on certain countries.

Travellers should also keep in mind that there will be longer waits at local airports due to increased screenings and airlines ramping up their aircraft cleaning procedures, in addition to the usual March Break travel rush.

Practicing good hygiene

Public health officials stress that maintaining proper routines of hand-washing, cleaning commonly-touched surfaces and avoiding public if you are sick or have a compromised immune system will help contain the virus.

"People need to assess their risk (levels), assess their health and what risks they’re willing to take," said Lynn Leggett, manager of infectious diseases at the Porcupine Health Unit. "When you’re out in the community and in the public, practice good infection control practices."