By Kevon Browne
St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Hazel Laws, during broadcast the National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) briefing spoke about the importance of education in relation to the reopening of schools.
“Education is absolutely critical for the development of children and youth. It’s a human right and a sine qua non for the future wellbeing of our society. It is critical for us to balance the risk of infection and transmission of this virus in children and the community with the harms of school closure… It’s impacting their physical health, their developmental health, mental health, and learning.”
In her presentation, Dr. Laws addressed the public health implication of reopening our schools and a few considerations suggested in relation to the operations of schools during this time. She explained that children are considered to be efficient transmitters of influenza and other respiratory tract infections. This was one of the rationales for school closure in March (2020). However, data from multiple countries suggest that children under 10 years of age are probably less likely to transmit this virus than older children or adults.
“There [is] emerging data and information suggesting that children 10 years and older may transmit the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Co-V virus at rates similar to those of adults.”
Laws suggested that school closure should be a last resort intervention going forward.
Public health measures should prioritize closure of all other non-essential congregate settings prior to school closures.
Each school has a screening policy in place; individuals upon entering the school will be screened.
Hand hygiene should go above and beyond through the daily school life of students, teachers, and staff. This practice should be incorporated into the regular proceedings of schools.
She recommended that students ages 11 and up wear face masks; however, according to the emergency powers regulations students between ages six to eleven are expected to wear face masks under the supervision of teachers. Students under six are not required to wear face masks.
Laws mentioned a question she received concerning asthmatic students needing breaks from the wearing of masks because of possible problems with breathing through the mask for a long period of time and she indicated that she saw no harm in the teacher allowing such consideration with respect to the mask.
Another practice Laws suggested as it is an international standard is cohorting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cohorting is the forming of groups of students, and sometimes teachers or staff, which stay together throughout the school day to minimize exposure for students, teachers, and staff across the school environment.
Cohorting helps to limit the mixing of students and staff so as to provide for a more efficient way of not only limiting exposure but providing a clearer contact tracing path.
Dr. Laws also went on to speak about the importance of scheduled environmental cleaning, discouraging sharing amongst students, and proper ventilation of classrooms as other significant suggestions to be implemented as school practices for the safety of all traversing the school environment.
The mitigation of risk for students with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, other lung diseases, juvenile diabetes, and other chronic illnesses that affect respiratory systems should also be addressed in the operations and protocols for this new school year. Dr. Laws went on to express:
“The majority of children and youth with underlying medical conditions should be able to safely attend school provided that appropriate enhanced safety measures are in place…”
Dr. Laws also suggested an individualized approach to the return of school for students that have existing medical, physical, or developmental conditions to foster a smoother transition.
In closing her presentation Dr. Laws stressed the importance of the mental health of students. She reported that studies suggest that during lockdown periods students suffered from depression and anxiety. She went on to encourage parents and teachers to be vigilant and recognize any signs to suggest instability within children.