Back at school: On student safety

The nascent reopening of schools can be sustained with a commitment to safety

Among the major concerns surrounding reopening of schools is possible transmission of the virus on campuses, with implications for vulnerable individuals in the students’ home. Here, the advocacy of the European Technical Advisory Group on schooling during COVID-19 — smaller class sizes, wider spaces between desks and staggered breaks at school — is worth considering. The panel underscores the importance of evolving a follow-up protocol, when a cluster of cases leads to school-wide testing. Many public health experts argue that younger children, typically in the 6 to 14 age group, have the lowest risk of moderate or severe COVID-19 infection, while this is also the cohort that needs good foundational teaching. Most of these students are not eligible for vaccination. WHO recommends that for these pupils, the approach towards reopening should be caveated: risk based, and taking note of community transmission, ability to maintain physical distancing and good ventilation. Vaccination of teachers and school staff and eligible students, and free testing for all are other major factors. Hesitancy or refusal should be firmly countered. Governments should end their populist indulgence of unsafe behaviour in public spaces to prevent community-level spikes that can jeopardise the nascent return of schooling.

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