Health & Fitness

Reducing Covid risk in schools

schoolsa

Children play at Star of Hope Primary in Lunga Lunga village, Industrial Area Nairobi attends to a student on November 2. Schools reopen on January 4. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

Summary

  • The thought of re-opening schools for many parents has put them on the edge of their seats.
  • This anxiety is largely driven by myths despite public health evidence showing that the closure of schools had minimal impact in mitigating the Covid-19 pandemic.

The thought of re-opening schools for many parents has put them on the edge of their seats. This anxiety is largely driven by myths despite public health evidence showing that the closure of schools had minimal impact in mitigating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier on in the pandemic, children who largely exhibit minimal or no symptoms of Covid-19 were labelled as “super-spreaders.” This was based on transmission patterns of influenza. Recent data shows that younger children are unlikely to transmit the virus.

The American Academy of Paediatrics recently published a review article showing that children were not significant drivers of the Covid-19 pandemic. In England, of 30 school outbreaks reported in June, most were among staff members and only two from student to student.

Education remains a key social determinant of health and considerations should be put in place to mitigate adverse social, developmental, and health outcomes associated with school closures including sexual and gender-based violence.

Several countries have resumed in-person learning. While one may argue and correctly so that the illustrations are from a well-resourced setting, below is a summary of recommendations to consider in schools;

Measures in schools

The government provided schools with guidelines to aid in reopening. Schools and more so teachers need to understand how to adapt and tailor these protocols to different ages. The use of pictures that are clear and easy to understand will help learners adhere to protocols on hygiene measures, mask-wearing, and physical distancing.

Physical distancing measures including prohibiting large gatherings, staggering break times, moving classes to temporary spaces, or outdoors are just some of the measures that teachers can employ.

Protect staff, teachers and learners who are at high risk of developing severe disease either because of age or underlying medical conditions. Finally, schools need to be clear on a response plan and mitigation measures when there is either a suspected or confirmed case in school.

School reopening process

Whereas masking has proven to be one of the most important tools in mitigating the spread of the virus, one needs to consider the age and capacity of students to understand these measures.

Younger children are likely to find it difficult to adhere to correct masking and physical distancing measures.

Schools will need to reinforce “stay at home policies” if a child is unwell. Despite being a pandemic, it’s worthwhile to note that other respiratory viral illnesses are common among children and therefore a review by a doctor is highly recommended.

Schools should ensure they work closely with parents to regularly update them on precautions and measures being implemented to ensure support and collaboration.

This is especially important to ensure children are not stigmatised by peers for being sick. The majority of students either use public transport or school buses. Ensure physical distancing is maintained and where feasible and safe keep windows open to allow for proper ventilation.

With schools reopened

The government is expected to closely monitor key pandemic indicators and institute a decision model at either national, county, or sub-county level for reclosing and reopening schools as needed due to the resurgence of community transmission. Teachers and parents are expected to emphasise the use of masks, hand hygiene, and physical distancing.

Information on mitigation measures should be widely available and accessible to all learners in a child-friendly language including braille. Share clear, concise and accurate information about Covid-19, normalise messages about fear and anxiety, and promote self-care strategies not only for students and their families but also for teachers and other school staff.

In the few notable instances of the negative impact of prolonged school closure including sexual and gender-based violence that has been on the rise, teachers will be required to pick up these cases for prompt referral and appropriate interventions.

Dr Gaitho is an infectious diseases fellow at Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi