Home LearningDid You Know? Schools and Covid-19: Your Questions Answered

Schools and Covid-19: Your Questions Answered

by Eddie Rayner
Schools and COVID-19: Your Questions Answered

It’s back-to-school time in the UAE, but for many parents, what ‘back to school’ means is anything but clear. For although children are said to be ‘minor players’ in the transmission of Covid-19 and opening schools would ‘add little’ to the reproduction rate of infection, there is still much confusion. Here, we look at some of the most frequently asked questions in order to clear up some of the uncertainty and misunderstanding.

Q: What will the impact of opening schools be on the virus spread in the wider population?

A: A study published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Journal regarding the spread of the virus in New South Wales, Australia, found that the risk of children and staff transmitting the virus in schools was very low when contact tracing and ‘epidemic management’ was in place.

Q: When parents are faced with the decision on whether to send their child back to school, how can they make the best decision?

A: Parents need to look at what’s going on at the school and your own family circumstances. Find out the details of school reopening plans and what kinds of physical distancing will be achieved. They should ensure the school is committed to universal face coverings and understand their local community transmission. Schools are a reflection of their community. If disease transmission rates are going up in the community, that’s going to be a factor against more in-person learning. The other thing that’s individualised is the health of a child and the health of everyone in the child’s world.

Q: What physical changes can schools make to reduce risk?

A: Schools can reduce the risk that infections will spread by focusing on three major categories: airflow, reconfiguring the building interior to enable social distancing and hygiene.

Q: Would it help to group students in bubbles or pods?

A: It has been proven that by shrinking our social spheres, we can block the virus’ spread. The same strategy can be used in schools. If you have youngsters in one classroom or one pod that do get sick, it doesn’t spread like wildfire through the school. A bubble or pod also makes it easier for contact tracers to track exposure. If a child or teacher tests positive, the bubble can be quarantined instead of the whole school.

Q: If children are sitting at tables with at least six feet of distance between them, no barriers and not wearing masks, would they be considered close contacts if there was a positive case at the table?

A: If social distancing of six feet or more is assured, this would not be considered close contact.

Q: Are there any recommendations for teachers regarding how to best console a crying child and maintain safe practices? 

A: In such a situation, it is best if both the teacher and child are wearing both mask and eye protection and attempt to limit the duration of the close contact. The definition of close contact considers both distance and duration, so it is essential to limit the period of direct and unprotected exposure.

Q: Is there a recommended number of ‘hygiene breaks’ for children? 

A: It is recommended that children (and adults) wash their hands routinely and thoroughly throughout the day, particularly before eating, after using the restroom and after hands are soiled or dirtied. There is no explicit recommendation on the frequency or intervals of hand washing. 

Q: Is it okay for students to throw or kick a ball, etc. during sports classes if they maintain at least a six feet distance? 

A: Yes. Students can take part in physical activities if they are maintaining a six feet distance. Sports activities that allow for sufficient social distancing should be prioritised.

Q: If a choir class can maintain excesses (greater than 6 feet) of social distancing while singing, but not wearing a mask, would that eliminate the considerations of close contacts in the class?

A: Choir classes are of concern as singing might increase the distance respiratory droplets travel. It is suggested that chorus students stand at least six feet apart and wear a mask. It is preferable to hold practice outdoors when feasible.

Q: If a teacher or other member of staff has been in a group setting and is now showing COVID-19 symptoms and has test results pending, how does the school handle others in the group? Are others okay to continue working?

A: If the others in the group are asymptomatic, they can continue working with heightened awareness and monitoring for symptoms.

Dubai Health Authority dedicated, 24/7, back to school Covid-19 helpline Tel 800 588