A recent study conducted by Public Health England (PHE) highlights that any connection between coronavirus outbreak and school reopening in England is a rarity with only 67 new COVID-19 positive cases and 30 outbreaks in its schools. As per a research published by UNESCO, over 100 countries are still adhering to school closures, albeit in many nations it has become a subject of political controversies. In Indian schools, as government chalks a new plan to resume classroom learning in a phased manner, parents and teachers have shown skepticism arguing the credibility of such a decision likely to affect 37.4 million students.
In this regard, two professors of Nursing from Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, US, have emphasized the fact that children are more probable bearers of COVID-19 virus than doctors realise and the school reopening in US and Israel has only enhanced the veracity of the statement.
“Georgia’s Cherokee County School District, north of Atlanta, had over 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases by the end of its second week of classes, and more than 1,600 students and staff had been sent home after being exposed to them,” write authors Professor Phyllis Sharps and Assistant Professor Lucine Francis in The Conversation.
In India, where students huddle inside classrooms and suffer from lack of hygiene in school toilets would probably become the worst victims unless schools resort to stringent guidelines. As far as school reopening is concerned, it has become a subject of burning debate since school shutdown affects children making them vulnerable to exploitation. UNESCO anticipated that COVID-19 school closures will victimise girls the most increasing “…drop-out rates which will disproportionately affect adolescent girls, further entrench gender gaps in education, and lead to increased risk of sexual exploitation, early pregnancy and early and forced marriage.”
In a bid to reach a middle ground, Professor Sharps and Assistant Professor Francis jot down ten fundamental school reopening tips which will ensure the highest safety of faculties, children and families-
- Checking for symptoms and running temperature checks on students and staff members every morning to recognize possible symptoms associated with COVID-19
- Schools are in dire need of implementing quick response testing which will immediately identify COVID-19 infected asymptomatic people. The procedure is immensely pertinent to India where, according to World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, the impact of school shutdown is worst for poor and marginalised children without any access to online learning.
- Ensuring face masks for everyone to combat the spread of virus through air and limiting chances of infection.
- Students should not be frequently allowed to change classrooms. Rather schools should keep the teachers mobile to minimise chances of infection. Encouraging open classrooms should be a priority since it maintains better circulation of air.
- Classrooms should follow social distancing protocols such as placing the desks 6 feet apart and mark off seating procedures in congested places such as school buses.
- Regular cleaning of surface areas frequently touched such as doorknobs and switches.
- Helping students to build immunity should be a top concern for schools.
- Schools should suspend extracurricular activities that might involve physical contact.
- Students should be provided with emotional and behavioural support to help them with pandemic induced traumatic and stressful experiences.
- Deploying nurses in schools will be effective in monitoring and examining for symptoms and manage to contain it.
“Preparation for reopening must start well in advance. Most governments now have improved strategies to tract, test and isolate COVID patients. We must continue to make use of these tools. Initially, schools should open in low incidence districts with staggered timings,” explains Swaminathan.