24 September 2021 | Science conversation
What steps should a school take to keep students and staff safe from COVID-19? What about vaccination? How can families and communities keep themselves safe as schools reopen? Dr Maria Van Kerkhove explains in Science in 5 this week.
Vismita Gupta-SmithWe're talking today about keeping schools, students, school staff and families safe in this phase of the pandemic. Hello and welcome to Science in 5. I am Vismita Gupta-Smith. We are talking to Dr Maria Van Kerkhove today. Welcome Maria. Maria, as many countries are putting in place measures to protect students and staff and also larger communities safe and keeping them safe during this phase of the pandemic. What are WHO recommendations to keep communities safe?
Dr Maria Van KerkhoveThat's right Vismita. Many countries have put in place and are putting in place precautions to keep schools open safely during the COVID 19 pandemic. Schools operate in communities, and the first thing is to make sure that we try to drive transmission down as much as possible in those communities because the individuals that work at those schools live in the communities. Second is to ensure that we have good systems in place within the school system to be able to monitor the health of the students and staff. This is a plan to be able to detect cases to ensure that children who are unwell stay at home to make sure that there's good communication with the students themselves, the faculty, as well as the parents so that they know what to do if a student is unwell or if a teacher is unwell to make sure that there's good provisions within the schools to minimize the reduction, minimize the opportunity for spread of the COVID 19 virus. This is about disinfection. It's about improving ventilation, about distancing, about wearing, of masks. And if there's vaccines available in the areas to make sure that the vaccination is undertaken in those communities among the priority groups who live there.
Vismita Gupta-SmithMaria, during this pandemic, we've seen how important it is for students to have that continuity of education. Let's go a little deeper into what steps a school should take if a case is detected.
Dr Maria Van KerkhoveSo that is a great question. It is really important that students have that continuity in terms of their education and their safety and well-being. It's about having a plan in place. First of all, if students are feeling unwell, we recommend that they stay home and that they're cared for by a parent or a guardian at home. If there are cases in the school, they need to be able to be detected so that they can receive the proper care. They can receive a test, they can receive the proper care that they're needed based upon the symptoms that they have. And then we recommend there to be contact tracing. So the same as we do in the general community, if there is a case that has identified, what we want to do is make sure that we prevent the opportunity from that virus, from transmitting from one individual to another. So it's important to identify the contacts of those children and those children be in quarantine for a certain number of days so that they don't have the opportunity to spread, should they be infected. But all of that requires detailed planning by the school. It requires good communication with the students themselves. First of all, to take the measures to prevent themselves from getting infected and passing to others, but also to know what to do if they are feeling unwell or if they happen to be a case.
Vismita Gupta-SmithMaria, what about the importance of vaccination?
Dr Maria Van KerkhoveIt's really important to be vaccinated when it's your turn. We do have a global shortage of vaccines around the world, and we don't have good vaccine equity. We want to make sure those who are most at risk receive the vaccine first. Older individuals, people with underlying conditions, health workers. But we also include teachers in a priority group. So local, there may be different provisions available of vaccines in the area where you live. But we chose recommendation is to get vaccinated when it's your turn and to make sure that you receive the full course of the vaccination.
Vismita Gupta-SmithMaria, talk to us about how families can keep themselves safe.
Dr Maria Van KerkhoveWell, it's really important that families also do everything that they can to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. It first starts with prevention. Everything that you can do to minimize your exposure to this virus is what WHO recommends. This is about distancing. It's about good hand hygiene. It's about wearing a mask, making sure that you when you're wearing a mask, you have clean hands and you wear a well-fitted mask over your nose and your mouth to avoid crowded spaces to stay home if you're unwell. All of these factors matter in your home, in your community, as well as at school. It starts about keeping yourself safe. Remember that anyone can be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including children, and they can pass the virus to other. So it's really important that families discuss what these risks are because it depends on the age of the child and what they are able to do in terms of keeping themselves safe. It will be difficult for younger children to adhere to wearing a mask, for example, or keeping their distance. So it's important to have that open dialogue and talk about the risks, depending on their age. But there's a lot that everybody can do to keep themselves safe from the youngest child to the oldest adult. All of us have a role to play in reducing the possibility of the spread of COVID 19.
Vismita Gupta-SmithThank you, Maria. That was Science in 5 today until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science