NATIONAL NEWS - Paediatric expert Professor Mignon McCulloch from of the UCT Department of Paediatrics and Child Health says children should return to school as soon as possible, not only to resume their education, but also for their mental health.
She addressed fears of infection with the coronavirus in a school environment during a digital conference hosted by Western Cape Premier Alan Winde earlier today, Thursday 11 June.
McCulloch said all current evidence on the novel coronavirus shows that children are affected much less by the virus. They have a much lower viral load, so the transmission rate from children to adults is much lower than transmission from adult to adult.
This addresses one of the anxieties that teachers have regarding returning to school and contracting the virus from their learners, she said.
"We feel there are huge advantages in getting kids back to school." She said the virus will be present for a very long time far into next year, but education should go ahead. Many children are at a disadvantage for not having digital alternatives that enable schooling at home, and they require face-to-face education.
In addition, children's mental health is affected because of the lack of social interaction with their friends and teachers. Furthermore, many parents are returning to work, forcing them to leave their children at home alone. Another aspect that should be considered is that a large number of children have not had access to school feeding programmes.
Talking about the risks of going back to school, she said parents take their children shopping and the chance of getting the virus in that environment is the same as being at school.
The basic hygiene rules of wearing a mask, keeping hands clean and social distancing should simply be adhered to. There are many ways that in which a school can ensure social distancing, such as different school breaks for different classes and shifts in classes.
She said few children have died from the coronavirus and those children had all been suffering from severe comorbidities.
Where learners have comorbidities, parents must approach the school or department to discuss their fears and options.
Mask wearing non-negotiable
McCulloch stressed the importance of mask wearing. She said research has shown that masks really do make a difference. "Visors only stop big droplet spread. Learners should definitely wear a mask and we must teach them how to wear it properly."
Mask-wearing countries in Asia have managed to educate their children and adults to wear masks. "And cloth masks are often more comfortable than medical masks."
The Western Cape Education Department head, Brian Schreuder, said the department has started and will continue with education around the correct wearing of masks. In the special schools environment an exception will be made, and where face shields will be used allowed in cases where masks are practically not possible.
Teachers' mental health
Schreuder said a lot is being done and will be done to ensure that teachers' mental health is addressed. Their state of mind is important as they have to carry over a positive mindset to their learners.
He said while 98 teachers in the province have been infected with the coronavirus, it did not happen in schools, as the schools have been closed.
R280-m spent on hygiene products
Education Minister Debbie Schäfer said R280-million has been spent on masks, thermometers, disinfectants, bleach, hand sanitiser and liquid soap for schools in the province. Every staff member and learner must be screened before entering the school every day.
Extensive hygiene guidelines have been developed for schools, including instructions around decontamination and other measures to be taken, should a staff member or learner test positive for the coronavirus.
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