Once there is strong adherence to protocols, if a positive case of COVID-19 is detected at a school this does not mean that the whole school or even everyone in the same class as the positive case should be sent home.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Simone Keizer-Beache explained this to SEARCHLIGHT yesterday amidst reports that there had been at least two instances of a COVID-19 positive student present at school since the return to face-to-face classes on November 1.
“Because what we are recommending is that there should be strong adherence to the other protocols, which would mean there would be good ventilation in the classroom, all of the children should be wearing their masks most of the time; they should be sanitising; they should not be sharing utensils or books or anything like that. And when they are eating lunch, they should be outside where it is airy,” Dr Keizer-Beache said yesterday, while explaining the COVID-19 guidance which has been put in place for the conduct of schools.
She said based on the protocol, only close contacts of the COVID-19 positive individual or the children who are seated immediately around the positive student (typically eight persons) should be asked to go home to quarantine. A close contact is defined as a person who has been close (6 feet or less) to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes without a mask.
“Also, you should not be changing around the configuration of the class. Children should remain in the same seat all the time for the school day. So that your exposure is constant, and not that they are moving around so much, you do not know who was next to whom,” the CMO said.
According to the protocol, all unvaccinated close contacts should quarantine at home for five days from the last day of contact with the positive case. The close contact should test on day five, or before if symptoms develop. Vaccinated close contacts may remain at school with strict mask use and test on day five.
The CMO explained that especially in the secondary schools where an increasing number of children are vaccinated, the chances of spread is reduced. Therefore a vaccinated student who was one of the eight students sitting closest to a positive case and who has no symptoms may not need to be quarantined.
“But we know some people will be anxious with that and even though that is what we recommend and this is what happens with adults, we would say just those eight persons would be the ones to go home.”
Dr Keizer-Beache however cautioned that if the protocols are not strictly adhered to and the school is not certain who the child was in contact with in the classroom, a recommendation might be made for the entire class to go home for the period.
“Definitely we do not recommend the entire school, even if the child was outside, playing. But that is outside playing and those are brief interactions.
She also stressed the importance of a child not attending school if there is a positive case at home, unless that positive case is completely isolated from the child.
“That child should probably not be in school, or on a case by case basis, discuss it with a health care provider. If anyone in the home develops symptoms the morning or day before, that child probably should not be allowed to go to school until the person is tested,” the CMO said.