EVEN though the country has begun recorded pockets of new infections especially in schools, it is not wise to close schools at the moment, Public Health Experts have warned.
By Patricia Mashiri
Schools especially in Mbereengwa have been recording new COVD-19 infections of late, prompting some parents to push for closure of the schools before the situation spirals out of control. However, local health experts believe the situation was still under control and there was no need for halting studies.
Speaking to HealthTimes, Mr Itai Rusike, the Executive Director for the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) said in light of the highly contagious Delta variant the government must instead provide support to the vulnerable schools that do not have any resources due to non-collection of fees in the last two years as schools were closed.
Given that most of the public schools do not have capacity to provide online schooling for the majority poor children. The Face-to-Face learning is essential to keep all the school children in class whilst putting in place strict measures to limit transmission that includes vaccinated staff, limited classroom capacity mandatory temperature checks and wearing of face masks and physical distancing measures within classrooms and play grounds.
“The government should provide for Personal Protective Equipment to vulnerable schools, safe transport, vaccination to all those that are eligible. COVID-19 vaccine literacy to the school health coordinators including provision of water and sanitation,” Rusike said.
Zimbabwe opened schools at the beginning of September following the easing of Lockdown restrictions by government after cases and deaths had receded across all the country’s 10 provinces.
Epidemiologist and Public Health Expert said closing of schools was not advisable as there was also need to consider other factors that affects children besides the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 outbreaks in schools are not unique to Zimbabwe, and were largely expected with the reopening of schools. World over, huge clusters of cases have occurred in schools, and they are not an indication for school closure. In closed school communities, such as boarding schools, the outbreaks are much easier to contain locally, with isolation of cases, effective local contact tracing and quarantining of contacts within the schools.
“This helps to break the chains of transmission locally, without cases spilling over into nearby communities, which can trigger widespread community transmission. With day schools, especially in high density suburbs, affected children and their contacts must stay at home for the whole duration of isolation and quarantine periods,” said Dr Grant.
He added that, whilst there have been isolated cases of bad outcomes in young children with COVID-19, the majority actually do well compared to the older people , and exhibit minimal symptoms.
” The greatest fear is that these children may act as vectors to older and more vulnerable individuals at schools and in the communities, including their educators and parents. The call must be on the government to create safer learning environments within schools. Teachers, parents and all eligible individuals work in schools need urgent access to vaccines if they are willing to be vaccinated, and government must also come up with a clearer position/policy regarding vaccination of children in the 14-17 year old groups. Other countries have started vaccinating children as young as 12 years with impressive safety profiles, whilst clinical trials for younger kids are either in the pipeline or undergoing.”
He added that it was important to ensure strict observation of infection prevention and control protocols in the schools, especially physical distancing, but also hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and for older children, face masks. Children need repeated education with patience regarding COVID-19 and the government and teachers must rapidly develop IEC material relevant to particular age groups in schools and communities.
Meanwhile, Taungana Ndoro Director of Communications and Advocacy Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, said the government was aware of the COVID-19 outbreak in Mberengwa schools and necessary procedures were underway to ensure safety of kids.
“We are proud of our scientific surveillance through our standard guidelines for the coordinated prevention and management of the COVID-19 pandemic learning institutions. In terms of the school’s standard operating protocols, all infected learners must be isolated in sick bays or special dormitories that have been created at the institutions,” Ndoro said.