OPINION: Irreducible minimums for re-opening of schools

OPINION: Irreducible minimums for re-opening of schools

By Dr. Nelly Yatich

In general, children with COVID-19 are less likely to have severe symptoms than adults.

They often experience an asymptomatic infection. Children, particularly those less than 14 years of age, appear to be affected less commonly than adults.

In surveillance from various countries children typically account for 1-9% of laboratory-confirmed cases.

Cumulative rate of COVID-19-associated hospitalization among children is over 20 times lower compared to adults.

Although the cumulative rate is low, 1 in 3 children hospitalized with COVID-19 was admitted to an intensive care unit so the risk is not negligible.

Severe cases of COVID-19 in children were associated with underlying conditions. Some studies show that the risk of hospitalization for kids infected with COVID-19 is about equal to that seen with the flu.

Best available evidence from countries that have re-opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission.

The comparatively low risk for hospitalization and death among children themselves must be contextualized to the risk posed to teachers and other staff in the school environment.

The risk of teachers and other staff in the school is expected to mirror that of other adults in the community if they contract COVID-19.

The unique and critical role that schools play makes them a priority for re-opening and remaining open, enabling students to receive both academic instruction and enable the provision of other critical services and supports.

Irreducible minimum for re-opening schools

1.The counties and MOH MUST ensure that local hospitals are well equipped to handle COVID-19 hospitalizations. It is not ok for people to die because there is no oxygen in the facility. The more prepared the health facilities are, the less the COVID-19 deaths.

2.We MUST protect Health Care Workers of all cadres.

3.Ministry of Education MUST ensure that ALL children in public schools are provided with good quality and adequate masks.

4.ALL schools MUST have sanitization booths with water and soap at all times.

5.Dorms, dining rooms and classrooms MUST have sufficient ventilation and space. These spaces should be continually disinfected.

6.Limit sporting events as well as cross-school transfer programs.

7.Limit school trips and any nonessential visitors.

8.Every school must have an Emergency operations plan in place in case a student/staff contracts COVID-19.

9.Measures MUST be taken to protect children, teachers and staff with underlying conditions.

10.The schools should work closely with health officials to develop a protocol for monitoring local COVID-19 data in the community to keep track of the level of community transmission, to make decisions about changes to mitigation strategies, and to help determine whether school closures may be necessary. This should include daily review of official public health data for the community surrounding the school.

11.Since school transmissions mirror what is happening in the community, EVERYONE MUST make it an individual responsibility to take precautions so that children can stay in school.

Without this, our children will be home for the long haul and we will continue blaming the government.

Dr. Nelly Yatich is an epidemiologist based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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