COVID-19: How safe are schools?

ON Monday, schools in Oyo State opened to children in existing classes to prepare for their examinations. Although the usual school rush was missing, many were moving in groups draped in their school uniforms.

But parents and teachers are worried if the benefits of reopening public schools outweigh the risks. They are concerned that increased exposure of children to COVID-19 could jeopardise their health, including increased community transmission of the virus.

Schools can be a hot spot for the coronavirus, but that seems to have less to do with how infectious children are and more to do with the compliance to preventive guidelines and the structure of the schools themselves, which in many places have narrow travel spaces, inadequate ventilation and crowded classrooms.

“Not even one of them was wearing a facemask, outside of their house. Even on the road, they ought to wear it and not only when they get to school. There is no guarantee either that the teachers will also wear it too if you pay a visit to the school. It is as if the virus is not real,” a parent, Mr Anthony Takure, observed.

Mr Takure had passed the students his way to work. The few with masks only had it under their chins. “Some were wearing Hijab which they could have also used to cover their nose. Some even had on them a rosary, but will this protect against coronavirus?” he added.

Young people, and especially school-age children, seem to be more resistant than adults to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Fewer of them have caught the virus, and of those, more than a third have shown no symptoms like fever, coughing, sneezing, and stomach upset.

Researchers however, are cautioning that it is critical to practice social distancing, hygiene and other precautions being recommended by public health authorities to minimise transmission from children to others, including at school.

How contagious is coronavirus in schools? Dr Moses Adewumi, a virologist at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, stated that it is also subject to the type of chemical substance used to fumigate schools.

Dr Adewumi, said although viruses may not be lying everywhere and on different surfaces in the school, there is the concern that many young people don’t understand why they must maintain physical distance at school.

He added: “These young ones don’t really understand much, they will eventually go about hugging each other and so on. They are not able to observe any of the guidelines. If you look around even in Oyo State, even the parents are not doing it, how much more the young ones?”

Dr Adewumi said countries like Israel that tried to open up its schools early resorted to a lockdown when they started to record an increase in the number of people that became infected with the virus.

“So I don’t know where the idea that schools should be opened comes from. We are going to expose them to a lot of problems, including the virus. Most of the time when we make our decisions here, it is not based on any scientific evidence.

“Even the texture of the cloth face mask is too light to hold back anything. We are doing so many things wrongly and we can only hope that things do not get out of hand. The virus had led to the death of so many in the western world, but we shouldn’t push our luck too far,” he added.

Incident Manager, Oyo State COVID-19 Emergency Operation Centre, Dr Taiwo Ladipo said children should  wear a face mask for several reasons when in  public places, including in commercial vehicles and school.

“For me, I will say that when children are in school, they are meeting other children and have adults as teachers, they should use it during school hours but when they are at home, there is no need for them to wear one.”

Since in school, there are children from different homes and with different levels of exposure, he said it was better to be on the side of caution by wearing a facemask.

Dr Ladipo, however, stated that face shields were not as effective as face masks in protecting against coronavirus.

A face mask is supposed to cover the nose and the mouth. The face shield only prevents touching one’s face and reduces its wearer’s level of exposure to droplets.

However, he added, “the face shield can still allow in some droplets, same with the suction pressure of one’s breathing.  I have seen children this morning wearing face shields to school, yes, it is appreciated but it is not as effective as if they had the face mask.”

The Oyo COVID-19 task force incident manager, however, assured that the taskforce had intensified its effort on public awareness on COVID-19, including imbibing the slogan, “Own your action” to ensure they priorities their safety at all times.

He declared, since the schools opened, the task force, led by Governor Seyi Makinde had personally visited some schools on Monday to see their level of compliance.

“It has opened our eyes to other things that need to be done by the government in terms of infection prevention and control (IPC), he added.

 

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