August 10 2020
“In light of studies that indicate how children are “good incubators and spreaders of viruses”, it begs the question if having pupils return to schools is more important than keeping the virus contained?
Schools in the UK are gearing up to welcome students back in early September after a hiatus since March. Despite the government mandate for schools to prepare to welcome students, there still is a large concern regarding the decision because of the fear of a second wave. Research indicates that surges in the winter months are bound to occur and the necessary measures to prepare need to be in place. The UK government as of now has instructed schools to reopen with proper health and safety measures to keep the virus in check. The government has issued very general guidelines that schools can follow to aid their opening that will include risk mitigation and heightened surveillance of both staff and students. However, institutions have not been informed of any additional financial support to implement these measures or transparency on how they need to go about doing it. This decision has been on the coattails of several discussions on students’ education, the well-being of students and staff, the need economically and more importantly that the government has reached its limits in terms of what can be done in opening things. No doubt with the end of the furlough schemes in many places, this could also be the resolve to help parents get back to their socially distanced workstations. This could be the government’s way of opening vital sectors of the economy that are essential for the country to function.
Of course, it comes with trade-offs because we are still not ready for all the venues to operate at full capacity. While there is no definite statement, pubs, bars, and clubs may be forced to close again in order for schools to open and authorities observe what unfolds regarding community transmission rates. The question is will these enterprises that need to stay closed be reimbursed or at least moderately compensated for their monetary losses? Based on models by researchers, the rate of transmission among children is considerably low provided that proper precautions are followed, but it does not take away from the fact that an outbreak could cause an increase in general infection rates in the community. In fact, research scientists in the UK are apprehensive about the move as they feel efforts to test-and-trace need to be scaled up significantly before the reopening to avoid possible surges. Their research has shown that spread between students and their parents is more than capable of triggering a second wave unless the authorities have effective test-and-trace programmes which are tedious procedures to contain the outbreaks.
Schools have the resources to mobilize their staff and conduct e-learning sessions and continue the learning process. So, to ask students to get ready with their uniforms- is it necessary considering the health risks and potential medical stress it could trigger if a student or class gets infected. In fact, the government has also stated that while schools reopen, they also need to have a contingency in place in case of a local lockdown and the classes need to continue remotely for the students but there is no real clarity on what the strategy needs to be. The schools are dealing with hundreds of students and staff at a given time and need to be provided and supported with concise operating plans and procedures along with the guidance on implementing them effectively. Mismanagement of the opening could lead to immediate shutdowns and an unnecessary increase in cases in the community. These are unchartered territories for both the authorities and schools and with just a month away for the new academic year - are the authorities perhaps executing a trial and error process with the school system? Would it not be rational to first open public venues gradually followed by the schools?