Canadian Public Health Measures for SARS-CoV-2 Targeting Children During the Early Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Scoping Review

Introduction: On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic in response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is the causative agent of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Accordingly, health officials in Canada issued public health measures at the federal and provincial/territorial (PT) level to contain and mitigate SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the population and prepare the health systems’ responses to COVID-19. Children were identified as a critical group during the pandemic, due to their propensity to act as asymptomatic carriers and transporters of the virus.

Objective: This scoping review describes public health measures implemented at the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, with an emphasis on the extent to which issued public health measures targeted children.

Methods: We conducted a comprehensive search strategy of federal and P/T websites on COVID-19 public health preparedness strategies that were released between January 30 and April 30, 2020. Specific measures targeting children under the age of 18 were identified and examined. A mixed-methods approach for analysis of results was conducted, using both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Results: Of the 722 public health measures implemented during the study period, 8.7% (63) targeted children. Prince Edward Island and Quebec issued the most measures (8) while Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Manitoba issued the least (three each). The majority of measures focused on school and university closures (28, 44%), with daycare closures the next most common measure (14, 22%). Most of the public health measures targeting children were mandatory orders issued by governments (53, 84%). Non-mandatory measures focused on social supports for children and parents, including daycare provisions for essential workers and recommendations to keep children home from school after travelling in the first few weeks of the pandemic. Most of the public health measures were issued in March 2020 (45, 71%), while none were issued in January and only one measure was introduced in February. Eleven (17%) public health measures aimed at mitigating the psychological, social and/or educational stressors of the pandemic on children.

Conclusion: This scoping review provides insights on the effects of public health measures issued by the Canada federal and P/T governments in the first 90 days of the pandemic on children. Several of these measures directly impacted children’s education and care, however, an analysis on the evolution and impact of these measures merits further investigation.