Schools, children, and Coronavirus

THERE are several strong reasons why I will not send my 10-year old girl back to school this year.

First, there is an ongoing spike in positivity and hospitalization or home isolation rates in my state, where the number of confirmed cases jumped from 292 on June 30, 2020, to 1,103 by July 27, 2020. Within the month of July alone, many high profile citizens of the state, from the Governor and his aides to legislators, contracted the virus, while high profile deaths also occurred, including the former Commissioner of Health, who was in charge of the state’s fight against COVID-19.

Yet, there is an abysmally low level of compliance with the Nigeria Center for Disease Control risk-mitigation measures throughout the state. Yes, you could find one or two persons among 100 wearing a mask, but there is neither physical distancing nor frequent hand washing in crowded spaces. Stores, shops, markets, motor parks, and religious houses are operating more or less as normal, as if there is no coronavirus in town.

To complicate matters, the testing level is very low in the state and it is done only on suspected cases, unlike a neighbouring state where testing is being done, community by community, to detect cases, rather than wait for cases to come for testing. The strategy of taking the test to the people allows for early detection, isolation, contact tracing, and treating confirmed cases.

Second, the state headquarters, where I am currently in hibernation, is the epicentre of the virus. Yet, this is where many parents live, who patronise my daughter’s school. My fear, therefore, is that coronavirus may accompany some parents, teachers, or pupils to the school and spread the infection. I don’t want my daughter to bring it home.

Third, the outlook of the virus in Nigeria is dire at the moment, with the positivity, hospitalization, and death rates still rising, crossing the 40,000 mark on Monday, July 27, 2020. True, according to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, more and more tests are being carried out, but if the virus is not present, there will be no positive cases. What the test results are revealing is the prevalence of community spread, especially within the top ten most infected states, where the positivity numbers are in the thousands.

Not only is my state among the top ten, people have been moving in and out of the state since border closures were removed. I, therefore, fear that some of the parents, teachers, and pupils in my daughter’s school may have visited other hot zones of the virus and may bring the infection to school were the school to reopen in these circumstances.

 

Fortunately, however, my daughter’s school has never stopped teaching their students by collaborating with parents to advance their curriculum online. I hope the school authorities carry on with this arrangement till the end of the year or until the pandemic is either in remission or over.

Unfortunately, fourth, the global outlook of the virus shows that there is yet no light at then end of the tunnel and nobody even knows how long the tunnel is. As of Monday, July 27, 2020, there were 16,301,736 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 650,069 deaths reported to the World Health Organization.

Worse still, most countries in which restrictions were relaxed are now struggling with new cases. In some countries, such as the United States, the surge in positivity, hospitalization, and death rates has reached alarming proportions in a number of states.

 

The story is similar with countries, which rushed to reopen schools. From Israel and Iran to France and Germany, schools have had to be shut down again as in China and South Korea. What is troubling about these cases is the spread of the virus among schoolchildren.

A recent study of nearly 65,000 kids by the South Korean Center for Disease Control showed that all children could spread COVID-19. Although children younger than 10 years old tend to spread the virus at a much lower rate, those in the 10- to 19-year-old age range could spread the virus within households just as effectively as adults. Young adults in their twenties could spread the virus even faster.

 

Fifth, the initial assumption that children may not die of the virus has been dispelled. On June 18, the BBC reported that a 13-day-old baby with no underlying health conditions died of COVID-19 at Sheffield Children’s Hospital in England. In the same report, a 13-year-old with no pre-existing conditions also died from the virus in another hospital.

Equally pathetic is the recent case of 9-year-old Kimora  Lynum, who died from Covid-19 complications in Floriday, USA, on July 18, 2020. Kimmie, as she was fondly called, had no known pre-existing conditions. Two days earlier, Bloomberg reported that at least 66 children younger than 20 had died of COVID-19 in the United States since mid-March.

The above examples are from countries with established democracies and strong health systems, unlike Nigeria, where the health system is weak and the cultural attitude to government-run projects is negative due to perceived corruption and weak governance. This may well explain the high rate of disregard for the NCDC risk-mitigation guidelines and even disbelief in the existence of coronavirus.

 

Against the above backgrounds, it remains unsafe in Nigeria to send schoolchildren back to school. This is particularly true of millions of public primary schools throughout the country, which lack the necessary infrastructure to comply with the PTF guidelines on school reopening.

Clearly, the Federal Ministry of Education took the right decision not to reopen primary schools at this time. However, the decision to allow SSS3 students to resume for the purpose of the WAEC exams in August is much too soon. Moreover, the time frame given to schools to comply with the PTF guidelines is insufficient and it is unclear how compliance will be ensured throughout the country.

To be sure, many schoolchildren are losing out by being locked out of school for months. Nevertheless, they can only be educated if they are alive. So long as the coronavirus stands between them and their classrooms, they should be kept at home.

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About the Author: Benjazzy

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