Reopening Schools Safely After COVID-19 Lockdown

A female student wearing a protective face mask to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus checks temperature of her classmates at a high school in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Senior students returned to classes on Wednesday in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, after no new cases or deaths were reported from the outbreak that had prompted a 76-day quarantine in the city of 11 million. (Chinatopix via AP)

The total national lockdown, initiated by the Government of India, was implemented in late-March of 2020, due to the global propagation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This, as discussed here, has led to severe regression in both economic and academic development of the country, the implications of which are yet to be determined.

To curb the losses and to bring the society back on track, the Government has decided to gradually rescind the restrictions of the lockdown.

A major point of discussion among the experts is the reopening of educational institutions and the precautions that should be taken to ensure the safety of the students and the staff. Discussed below are 6 points related to such precautions:

  1. Revamping the commute:

The first problem that will arise with the reopening of schools and colleges is that of transportation. Commuting to and from school using non-private vehicles is a common practice across the globe.

For instance, buses, vans, auto rickshaws, etc. are common means of transport used by Indian students to commute between their homes and schools.

Although this practice is efficient and saves time and money, it also obliterates the concept of social distancing. The scene of students being jam-packed into these vehicles like rolls of cloth is no sight rare to behold.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic’s call for maintaining a distance of 3-6 feet between people is not feasible in a vehicle, it would be better to promote the use of personal vehicles to commute for the time being.

If that is not possible, the stipulated maximum limit of passengers that a vehicle is allowed to carry at a time should be strictly followed. Besides that, the students should also thoroughly sanitize themselves and their belongings after alighting from the vehicle.

Besides that, the parents, guardians, drivers, etc. should be prevented from entering the school premises lest they have express permission from the principal. Such permissions should also be limited to valid reasons.

  • Social Distancing:

The students and staff should adequately follow the social distancing protocol implemented by the school in case if an official one has not been provided by the authorities responsible.

The size of a batch of students should be reduced per the size of each classroom to maintain adequate social distancing at all times.

Each batch of students should be segregated into different, well-sanitized classes or classes should be conducted in open areas where proper distancing can be maintained.

If both of these options are not feasible, students should be segregated into batches and allotted different times of the day or days of the week to attend school. Proper sanitization of the classrooms should be ensured before every batch change in this case.

Extra-curricular activities which may compromise social distancing, such as the use of laboratories, libraries, sports equipment, etc., should also be temporarily halted.

  • Health Screening:

Basic health checks must be carried out at least once a day to ensure that no person present on campus displays any symptoms of Coronavirus. These basic health checks generally include a temperature and breathing check.

  • Ensuring Proper Hygiene:

Ensuring proper hygiene is also an important — and, quite arguably, the most effective — method of prevention against COVID-19.

All of the people present on campus must use a hand wash to thoroughly cleanse their hands at least once every two hours. It can be done more frequently should the need arise. However, they should also ensure social distancing when doing so.

Everyone must carry a hand sanitizer with them at all times and make sure that they use it every time they come in contact with a frequently-touched surface, like doorknobs, walls, taps, etc.

Since Coronavirus needs to enter the host’s body to infect it, it is best to properly sanitize your hands before eating and drinking. Another thing to be ensured is to always be wearing a mask when around people and never touching your face with unsanitized hands.

Taking a bath after returning home from outside is also a must as the virus can stick to hair, or the surface of the clothes, shoes, etc.

  • Periodic Sanitization:

Periodic sanitization of the school campus and frequently-touched surfaces, like furniture, doors, computers, etc. is very important to curb the chances of a scenario similar to community spread occurring in the school.

If a school decides to segregate each class into different batches for maintaining social distancing, it must ensure that all desks and chairs are sanitized between batch changes.

An efficient method of accomplishing this task is to provide the students with the necessary material and instructing them to thoroughly clean their desk and chair themselves before and after each use.

  • Quarantining:        

The various precautions mentioned above are effective in preventing the spread of Coronavirus to some extent. However, they cannot put an absolute check to its spread.

Therefore, the school authorities need to be vigilant towards the specific symptoms of the virus and make sure that, should a person display those specific symptoms, they get diagnosed at the earliest.

If any person, who has visited the school premises within a span of 14 days prior, tests positive for COVID-19, every person that had come into contact with them should also get themselves diagnosed at the earliest.

Every class/room they visited should be quarantined for the next two weeks as a precautionary measure.

If a person has visited a COVID-19 positive patient in a hospital or attended the final rites of a deceased one, they should stay in home quarantine for the next two weeks and actively avoid visiting any public places.

The lockdown is going to be eased gradually in order to prevent situations like community spread occurring. However, population hubs, like schools, colleges, religious places, markets, etc., are more likely to cause community spreads of COVD-19.

Therefore, people need to be even more vigilant when in such places. Please take all necessary precautions and don’t panic. We will win and Coronavirus will lose!

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