How safe is it for children to return to school? Here’s what parents should know as per health expert  |  Photo Credit: iStock Images
- Parents and caregivers are grappling with questions and concerns whether it’s safe to send their kids back to school
- While several states are reopening schools for students of class IX-XII, some states have decided against it amid rising cases of coronavirus
- Here’s what parents, school officials and teachers should know about school reopening in the age of COVID-19
New Delhi: Schools and colleges in the country are reopening on Monday after a gap of about six months. Parents and caregivers everywhere are wondering whether it’s safe to send their children to resume classes amid rising cases of the novel coronavirus. Under unlock 4 guidelines, states can resume educational activities from September 21. However, it is not mandatory and several states, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal, have decided against the partial reopening of schools considering a high number of COVID-19 cases.
Parents have a lot of things to consider – ranging from their needs around work and the benefits of in-school learning to their family’s health and safety. Perhaps, resuming normal classes during the pandemic time requires balancing the health risks against the consequences of disrupting in-person learning. Times Now Digital spoke with Dr Tushar Parikh, Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospital, Kharadi, Pune, about whether parents should send their kids back to school, the risk of a child contracting COVID-19 in schools, as well as precautions and safety measures that need to be put in place. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Salome Phelamei: We’re seeing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases daily, yet, some schools are reopening anyway. Should parents send their kids back to school now?
Dr Tushar Parikh: The number of patients is going up every day even as India continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic. Now, with new guidelines allowing schools to reopen, some students will be attending school. As we all know there is no vaccine for COVID-19 yet, it is imperative to follow the norms if the children are visiting schools. Parents should ensure that the school has adhered to all the safety measures and then only send their children. They should try to insist on online schooling as it is safer than stepping out of the house.
Salome Phelamei: What should parents know about the coronavirus disease and children?
Dr Tushar Parikh: People belonging to all the age groups are equally at risk of getting infected with the SARS-CoV-2. Children can be asymptomatic carriers of this virus and may pass it on to others. The symptoms children may exhibit are cough, cold, runny nose, fever, and weakness. Children may also have diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Parents should pay attention to their child’s symptoms and seek prompt medical care.
Salome Phelamei: Why do children react differently to COVID-19?
Dr Tushar Parikh: Children are found to be less severely affected by Covid-19 infection. While the exact reason behind this phenomenon is not known, it is believed to be related to the immaturity of children’s humoral and cellular immune system. In children, the ACE -2 receptors on body cells, which act as attachment points for coronavirus are not fully developed, so virus acquisition and spread inside the body are less. Another view is that children are freshly exposed to vaccines like BCG and MMR and childhood infections like RSV which helps in developing an overlapping immune response to COVID-19 infection. Some complications related to COVID infection are because of hyper-immune response by the body to the virus, such response is lacking in children because of an immature immune system.
However, we have to remember that occasionally children may get a rare life-threatening complication of COVID-19 infection, called pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome or Kawasaki like illness. Also, children can bring infection home to elders in the family who may become severely ill. So parents must on no accounts take precautions to prevent COVID-19 infections in children.
Salome Phelamei: What is the risk of a child contracting COVID-19 in schools?
Dr Tushar Parikh: The risk of contracting coronavirus infection from the school is higher as these children can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Shaking hands, exchanging the books, or meeting someone who has the symptoms can infect them, and thereafter, they can pass it on to others. While younger children may infect fewer people, children under 5 may tend to infect a lot of people. Children will have milder symptoms when compared to older adults.
Salome Phelamei: What are the prevention and control measures for COVID-19 in schools?
Dr Tushar Parikh: Firstly, parents should be in touch with the school teachers to ensure that all the precautions have been followed properly. Other measures may include:
- Students, teachers, and other school staff should wear a mask and face shield without fail.
- Benches, desks, or chairs should be arranged in such a way that there is a 6-feet distance between all the students.
- Schools should only call some employees such as teachers – and if not needed, other employees should stay back home and opt for ‘work from home’ policy.
- Disinfect and sanitize the whole school every day along with the floors too.
- Maintain good hygiene when it comes to the washroom.
- Handwashing and using a sanitizer should be mandatory in school. Additionally, children should be additionally taught on how to properly use hand sanitizer and why they should avoid touching their faces.
- Students should not be allowed to gather in one place.
- The canteen should be kept closed.
- Arrangements should be made for online schooling too- so that the children can attend online classes as well as go to school and there will be minimal exposure.
- Children should avoid shaking hands, hugging, or constantly touching each other.
- They should be careful while sharing books or stationery – all types of equipment present in the school should be disinfected.
- Follow respiratory etiquette properly.
- If any student is feeling sick, then he/she should inform the teacher and seek immediate treatment.
Salome Phelamei: What can parents do to help schools safely reopen?
Dr Tushar Parikh: Parents should cooperate with the schoolteachers in these unprecedented times. Parents should make sure that their children are taking all the necessary precautions while they are going to school. If the parents feel that their children are sick, they should avoid sending them to school. See to it that you make your child eat nutritious food that will help him or her boost their immunity. Not only at school but the COVID protocol should be followed at home as well.
Salome Phelamei: Thank you.
The views expressed by the author are personal and do not in any way represent those of Times Network.