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Advice for schools to contain COVID-19

Written by: Allison Cooper

The Department of Basic Education has provided guidance for childcare facilities and schools to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

To prevent the spread of the Coronavirus in South Africa government has announced that schools have been closed from 18 March until after the Easter Weekend.

To compensate for this, mid-year school holidays will be shortened by a week.

This was revealed by President Cyril Ramaphosa who has declared a national state of disaster. “It is true that we are facing a grave emergency. But if we act together, if we act now, and if we act decisively, we will overcome it,” said President Ramaphosa.

Director-General of Basic Education, Hubert Mweli also gave direction on how schools can deal with this national issue.

How to respond to COVID-19?

To prepare for possible community transmission of COVID-19, the most important thing for schools to do now is plan and prepare.

“As the global outbreak evolves, schools should prepare for the possibility of community-level outbreaks and possible recommendations from health officials for learners, staff, classes or grades to be quarantined at home. School dismissal could be recommended in certain circumstances,”
said Mweli.

He added that decisions about appropriate public health interventions should always be made in discussion with public health officials, who have access to relevant information.

Should COVID-19 appear in your community or school:

  • Make sure everyone has up to date information on how to prevent its spread.
  • Monitor and plan for absenteeism.
  • Review attendance and sick leave policies. Encourage learners and staff to stay home when sick.
  • Discourage the use of perfect attendance awards and incentives.
  • Identify critical job functions and positions and cross-train staff.
  • Determine the level of absenteeism that will disrupt teaching and learning.
  • Establish procedures to follow when learners and staff become sick at school or arrive sick.
  • Keep sick learners and staff separate from well learners and staff, until they can go home.
  • Share resources with the school community.
  • Create communication plans.

Reconsider international travel

“The risks of contracting COVID-19 infection are generally low and the consequences in most cases are mild,” said Mweli.

However, there are associated risks with international travel, including cancelled flights, new travel restrictions, airport closures and possible quarantine.

“Schools may need to postpone or cancel trips that could expose learners and staff to the potential community spread of COVID-19,” Mweli said.

For those who have been in contact with a suspected, but not yet confirmed case, no restrictions or special control measures are required. There is no need to close the school or send other learners or staff home.

“All close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case are required to self-quarantine at home for 14 days, while being monitored for symptoms. They may not attend school,” said Mweli.

Take action if infection is confirmed

If a learner or educator is confirmed to be infected:

  • The school will be contacted by public health officials to discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with them and advise on actions to be taken.
  • An assessment will be undertaken by public health officials, with relevant staff.
  • A risk assessment will be undertaken by the institution, with advice from public health officials. In most cases, closure of the facility or school will be unnecessary. This decision will be facility or school specific, based on factors, such as size and pupil mixing.
  • Prepare for possible school dismissal. This should only be considered following recommendations from a public health official.

“Temporarily closing schools is a possible strategy to stop or slow the further spread of COVID-19 in communities. School administrators should work in close collaboration and coordination with health officials to make dismissal and large event cancellation decisions,” said Mweli.

During school dismissals, childcare programmes and schools may stay open for staff members (unless ill) while learners stay home.

“Keeping facilities open will allow educators to develop and deliver lessons and materials remotely, thus maintaining continuity of teaching and learning,” said Mweli. 

For more information and advice, visit www.nicd.ac.za, www.health.gov.za or www.education.gov.za. You can also contact the National Institute for Communicable Diseases community hotline at 0800 029 999.