School Re-opening..And Risks

World Health Organization released considerations for reopening schools where it acknowledged that outbreaks in schools are determined by background community transmission. We know that the rise in infected cases in India is no longer limited to clusters. Given that millions of elderly people are staying with their children since lockdown, the suggested partial reopening will further increase the risk for the elderly, even when they stay at home. Past and current data show that youth drive infections while the older generation pays the price. Now, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the partial resumption of facilities in schools. While this SOP states that this partial reopening is voluntary and for classes 9-12 only. The partial reopening of schools will result in school managements forcing teachers to report to the school premises for work. About two million individuals teach classes 9-12, as per national data. Further “voluntary” reopening of primary and secondary schools would put at risk another 6.6 million teachers. Add to it the support staff that will be needed to run schools, we are looking at an additional 10 million people stepping out, an interaction we have avoided so far. Many schools in India lack basic amenities, light, ventilation, access to clean toilets and adequate water. Such problems have been highlighted before the pandemic. Adding to their burden will be the need for alcohol-based sanitizers and sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff. Managements will push these responsibilities onto individuals to cut costs. Avoiding them will exacerbate the infection. No doubt Covid-19 has affected students’ education disproportionately. But Most schools have switched to the online mode of conducting classes, leaving out children who may not have access to a computing device or high-speed internet. While the government is under pressure to kickstart the economy, containing the infection will help resume economic activity, not restarting schools before the infection is contained. The focus must be on quick identification and isolation of infected individuals and not normalising infections. As we are not yet sure of our peak, and releasing such directives and acting upon them will only delay it further. Surviving the pandemic is more important than losing an academic year.

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