Experts puts parents’ minds at ease as schools reopen

Teachers make sure pupils adhere to physical distancing rules during break time.

As most Grade 7 and 12 pupils are settling in to schools around the city, anxious parents should feel at ease that their children will be “okay” during the Covid-19 epidemic.

Speaking at a digital conference held by the Western Cape Government on Thursday June 11, paediatrics expert Professor Mignon McCollugh, who is also head of paediatrics at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, said current research showed that transmission rates of Covid-19 from children to children and children to adults, appeared to be fairly low.

“Children biologically contain the virus better than adults, are less likely to get sick if infected, have milder disease, are unlikely to die from Covid-19, and are probably less infectious than adults,” she said.

“This virus will be with us for a long time to come, so it is important to get our children back to school, get them educated and get them to adapt.”

According to statistics provided by the Western Cape Government, as of June 5, there had been 1 787 cases of Covid-19 in people under the age of 20, which accounts for roughly 6% of all cases in the province.

Of these cases, six children had died, which accounts for 0.3% of people under the age of 20, and is often linked to comorbidities.

This shows that children are at a significantly lower risk than adults. “Worldwide stats prove that Covid-19 affects children much less than what it does in adults. We are quite comfortable that children should go back to school – it’s the best place for kids to be, provided they follow the necessary measures to keep safe.”

Children in the Western Cape started returning to school on Monday June 1, a week earlier than the rest of the country’s children, who returned on Monday June 8.

Education MEC Debbie Schafer said 98% of the schools had opened on Monday June 1 and although attendance had been low, it had increased throughout the week.

Ms Schafer said that extending schools closures had a direct effect on pupils’ future careers, particularly those who didn’t have ready access to digital learning, and relied on class teaching.

In addition, she said, children who relied on school nutrition programmes did not have access to the feeding programme while schools were closed.

She said while they were aware of the increase of Covid-19 cases in the province, schools had been provided with the necessary cleaning materials, as well as masks for teachers and pupils, thermometers, sanitisers and soap.

Anyone who enters school premises must be screened, she said, adding that sending pupils to school with just a visor was not safe enough, and that children and teachers should wear a mask at all times.

“Teachers should spend time talking to children about the importance of masks.

“For the younger children, games teaching them about social distancing and masks work well.”

If a pupil or staff member tests positive for Covid-19, the affected areas at the school will be decontaminated.

Those who had close contact with the infected person should self-isolate for 14 days, she
said.

Those who have had casual contact with the infected person – those who were in the same room, but had not touched the person – did not have to isolate, but must monitor themselves for symptoms.

Furthermore, she said, pupils would undergo a Covid-19 orientation programme, and those with comorbidities would be supported by the WCED.

Ms Schafer said they were yet to discuss how to manage how children who were being kept at home would continue with the curriculum.

She emphasised, however, that parents would have to take responsibility for the ongoing management of the child’s education and liaise with the
school.

Teachers, said Professor McCullogh, should not try to be “superheroes” and teach when they are ill but should stay at home – and the same goes for pupils.

During phase two of the staggered approach, which will kick off on Monday July 6, Grades 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 11 will start returning to schools.