Better safe than sorry: experts on reopening of schools

Parents worried about the health of their children with reports of a few COVID cases

With COVID cases being reported among teachers and students within days of opening of schools, parents’ anxiety levels are once again up. In fact, when the Telangana High Court requested the government to present the recommendation report of the experts’ committee on COVID-19 management to open schools and colleges, it must have caught the administration on the wrong foot.

Sure, a five-member committee of top scientists, including directors of IICT, CCMB and prominent doctors, was constituted last year but met just once with no public record of any suggestions made to the government or action taken for framing a COVID management strategy.

It certainly did not meet during the second wave and only when all hell broke loose with shortage of oxygen, beds and drugs in April-May, a fresh 12-member panel of scientists and doctors was constituted in June-end. And again, there was no information about any suggested steps.

While one of its members has been drafted as a special advisor for COVID management, Director of Public Health Dr. G. Srinivasa Rao continues to be the COVID official spokesperson ever since the pandemic broke out last year and has been talking of “collective responsibility if there is a virus outbreak” when he was not even a member of either of the committees!

Dr. Rao along with Director of Medical Education Dr. K. Ramesh Reddy has been holding forth disseminating information to the media. Yet, there is no record of the duo or anyone among the decision-makers having consulted public health experts, scientists or epidemiologists before deciding to open schools and colleges sans any steps to prevent infection spread, sending blood pressures among parents sky high.

“There is no data available about number of teachers or non-teaching staff who got vaccinated. Children below 18 years may not be down with severe sickness, if infected, yet they are vulnerable as they are not vaccinated. Even if there is one case fatality or an outbreak in an institution, it could lead to panic. The asymptomatic can also carry the virus home to the elderly,” points out a senior Health official.

“Children’s exposure to COVID is more harmful than their psyche without classes. We can make them happy without school or friends temporarily for some more time. I still wonder. Is it really making a great psychological impact on our children if they are not going to school?” asked a senior medical health professional Dr. T. Sateesh.

Senior CCMB scientist Dr. Mandar V. Deshmukh, involved in COVID vaccine research, wrote to a prominent private school, pointing out that cases spiked in the United States among children (19,000 hospitalised, according to a news report) with schools reopening for physical classes and said indoor classes could lead to easy transmission as was first revealed by his own institute. “While fun and bonding in school is undeniable, online classes should be continued. However difficult it is for everyone, children’s safety is more important,” he asserted.

Pressure on the government could be about poor children going to government schools deprived of mid-day meals and education with no access to internet or smart devices but that calls for a different strategy, say public health experts. Opening up colleges where students above 18 years got double dose vaccinated along with staff would be wiser for now, they add.

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