Strict adherence to safety protocols can keep schools safe — experts
When the Federal Government gave the all-clear for schools to resume amid soaring number of cases in the second wave of COVID-19, some state governments kicked against the reopening, and kept schools in their domains shut.
Even in states, where the state executives sided with the Federal Governments and threw schools’ doors open, parents remained apprehensive, especially with the presence of the more lethal, mutant strain of the virus in the country.
But with schools already in their second week of activities, education and public health experts are united in their submission that the health of learners would not be compromised, if school authorities enforce strict adherence to the approved safety protocols by pupils/students, teaching/non-teaching staff, parents, as well as visitors.
According to Primary Coordinator, Mind Builders School, Ikeja, Lagos, Mr. Abatan Israel, the reopening of schools calls for a lot of safety measures to be implemented by schools’ authorities for the safety of pupils. “These safety measures should not only be observed by the pupils and students, but should also be observed by all members of teaching and non-teaching staff, as well as parents, and all visitors coming into the school.
“Additionally, schools should have good access control, including making use of only one entry and exit to enable the monitoring of entry and exit of everyone. As people are coming into the school, some designated staff should be at the gate to check their temperature using infrared thermometers, and they must keep adequate record of the temperature check. Whoever has an abnormal temperature should not be allowed in school.
“Also, social distancing must be observed. From the gate, people entering the school should not cluster. They should be made to stay at least one metre apart. The same rule must be enforced at hand washing centres, school reception, classes, in school buses and everywhere within the school. At the point of entry, only persons wearing face masks the correct way should be allowed entry. Some people wear face masks, which do not cover their noses and mouths. Such people should not be allowed to enter until they have worn their face masks correctly,” he said.
Israel continued: “Once they enter, they should proceed immediately to the hand washing centres, which should be very close to the school gate and at least two school personnel should be on ground to ensure that everyone entering into the school complies with the hand washing exercise. The school should provide enough water taps for hand washing at entrances, and around the school compound. School should also provide disposable hand towels for visitors to dry their hands, as well as alcohol-based hand sanitisers.
“There should be public display of banners and posters at conspicuous places in the school to keep reminding everyone coming into the school the need to observe the COVID-19 guidelines always. Some of the guidelines that must be emphasised include, regular hand washing with soap and running water; no face mask, no entry; wearing of face masks correctly; coughing and sneezing into elbows; enforcement of social distancing, and discouraging clustering of people, hugging and handshakes among others.
“Furthermore, schools should educate parents to keep their children at home when ill, while schools should provide isolation centres and continue to sensitise parents and other family members of pupils and students on the need to keep safe. Schools can also send short videos and messages to parents from time to time on the importance of keeping safe, as achieving good health requires a lot of collaboration between school and the home front.”
For schools that do not have running water, Israel said provision should be made for liquid soaps and water in buckets that have taps, which would be manned by designated personnel, who would ensure that pupils and students. Alternatively, they could provide alcohol-based sanitisers, but these are more expensive than soap and water.”
Stressing the importance of hand washing and sundry personal hygiene in the schools, he said: “Generally speaking, hand washing and personal hygiene measures are the most important steps to stemming the spread of COVID-19, not only in schools, but in the society. Consequently, efforts should be made by all to wash hands regularly and maintain high personal hygiene measures on a daily basis.”
Corroborating Israel’s position, a family physician, Dr. Chukwuma Ogunbor, said students should be made to practise regular hand washing, as it is one of the key cornerstones of COVID-19 prevention. “Now more than ever, as we embrace the new normal and live with COVID-19, hand hygiene has become an integral part of our daily routine and lives.
He added: “To stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools, the practice of hand washing at regular intervals is a must, after coughing, sneezing, after using the toilet, and before eating. Hand washing after touching common surfaces such as doorknobs or handles, or after one comes back home from visiting a public place will keep students and others around them safe.”
The co-founder, Impact Driven Young Leaders (IDYL) Initiative, Dr. Obinna Ebirim, said schools should teach their pupils regular hand washing, cough hygiene, embark on regular symptoms’ check, and watch out for sick pupils, who should be advised to stay at home away from other kids. Boarding schools should ensure that they serve balanced diet, while they also ensure adequate hydration.”
Ebirim explained that hand washing is very important in the prevention of COVID-19, and also very important in the prevention of other diseases, especially diarrheal diseases. Cough hygiene is also important in preventing other respiratory diseases beyond COVID-19. When we eat a balanced diet and drink adequate amount of water to remain hydrated, our body is more strengthened to fight diseases. Immunisation is one of the most cost effective and important health interventions that save two to three million lives annually from vaccine-preventable diseases. Some of these preventive measures should be taught as a way of healthy living, and not something that should be stopped after COVID-19 is gone.
Dr. Atilola Ogunlola from Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) Ikeja, Lagos, said the younger the children, the more difficult it becomes for them to obey safety measures. Therefore, the teachers and guardians need to be very careful to avoid nightmare, as children are very playful. Although many of them have not done well in online learning, as many schools do not have enough facilities to conduct online teaching successfully.
He said: ‘The children need to go back to school, and schools should create places for hand washing, as it will go a long way in containing the spread of COVID-19 for children’s benefit.
‘The best way to keep pupils safe while learning is for government to make policies that will work for the children, based on their localities, because what will work for children in Lagos might not work for children in Ondo or Delta states”.
Dr. Modupe Akinyinka, a senior lecturer and Consultant Public Health Physician at Department of Community Health and Primary Health Care Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM), said major preventive measures require that students, teachers and guardians try and slow down the epidemic by refraining from spreading it any further. “Therefore, let everyone involved in school activities behave as if they have the virus already, and maintain the safety protocols, which include social distancing at least, in order to flatten the epidemic curve, that is, reduce transmission. Schools must keep to all the guidelines on preventive measures, such as frequent hand washing with soap and water, as well as strict maintenance of personal hygiene.”
Akinyinka explained that hand washing will help students in keeping food safe and to prevent COVID-19, because in the course of everyday activities, they touch a lot of items and so pick up germs, and if their hands are not washed, they can contact the COVID-19 virus. So, washing of hands with soap and water, preferably running water, will help to remove COVID-19 infections and protect children from other unnecessary and preventable illnesses.
Very critical points to wash hands include after toilet use, before eating, or touching food, and after returning from outdoor activities such as work, play ground among others.
She noted that hand washing will help children grow stronger, because it keeps them from being sick or infected with diseases. They are, therefore, able to eat well and grow stronger.
She advised that schools must not throw away the good habit of hand washing and good hygiene. Students must wash their hands with soap and water as often as is required to prevent COVID-19 virus in their schools and families and those around them. Schools should keep their environment clean and tidy and also to remember that prevention is always better than cure.
She said: “School managements should ensure that students maintain social distancing of at least two metres away from each other, while learning in class, and at the assembly ground. Students should avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, practise good respiratory hygiene. All these should be enforced.”