- Schools across Delhi reopened on April 1, after being shut for two years
- Masking is desirable in poorly ventilated areas: Dr Shashank Joshi
- We need to stay calm but cautious; continue wearing masks: Dr Dhiren Gupta
New Delhi: A teacher and a student of a private school in South Delhi tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday (April 14), following which all classmates of the affected student were sent home. In the past few days, numerous students and teachers from schools in Uttar Pradesh’s Noida, neighbouring Delhi, have tested positive for the coronavirus. Schools across Delhi-NCR reopened on April 1, after being shut for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Coinciding with school reopening, the mask mandate has been relaxed in various states including Delhi, Haryana and Maharashtra in the country.
Due to a current spike in COVID-19 cases, some schools have been shut down again. To contain the infection, the Delhi government on Wednesday (April 13) released an order urging people to follow all COVID precautions – masking, social distancing, and handwashing. If any case of COVID is reported, the school is supposed to inform the Directorate of Education and close down the concerned wing of the school or the school as a whole as the case may be.
Talking to NDTV about how schools address COVID positive cases and what should be done to contain the spread of the infection, Sudha Acharya, Principal, ITL Public School said,
A knee-jerk reaction is not required”. She added, “I can understand the apprehension and confusion among parents. The school has its standard operating procedure (SOP) in place. We are following all COVID protocols and norms at the entry and exit and cafeteria. The school is sanitised thrice a day – early in the morning, during break time and after school hours. If any student SHOWS symptoms, we immediately segregate the child, take appropriate care, inform parents, shift other students from that classroom and sanitise the place.
Sharing her views on closing schools in the wake of rising cases of COVID-19, Tarini Kapur, a student of class 12 said,
While everything else is open in full swing, closing schools will be cruel to us as students. Closure of schools has resulted in huge learning gaps, affected our mental health and most importantly, we have forgotten how to socialise.
Ms Kapur is of the opinion that schools shouldn’t be shut down over one or two cases. Instead, we should learn to live with it.
Is it school reopening of schools that is driving cases up or have we let our guards down too soon? Pradeep Rawat, Founder of the Gurgaon Parents Association believes it’s too early for schools to be reopened, especially for exams. He said,
What was the need for offline exams, especially after two years of continuous online classes? Children have almost lost the practice of writing. I have seen children traveling in buses without face masks and hugging each other. We are too early into children being sent to school. While most adults are vaccinated, children are yet to be vaccinated. There should be more vaccination and hybrid mode schooling. Parents and children should be given a choice to opt for either online or offline classes.
A similar trend was seen in the US when restrictions were lifted but they managed to keep schools open and reasonably safe. Can India emulate the US model? Dr Priya Sampathkumar, Chair, Infection Prevention and Control, Mayo Clinic said,
Even in the US parents were divided over the reopening of schools. Here, in the US, most schools are offering the hybrid model and they have been responsive to local outbreaks. Rather than having a national school policy, it has been left to the local districts to decide. When cases rise, they move online and come back to in-person learning when local cases are down. Secondly, we are vaccinating children over the age of five and there is reasonable uptake in that age group. Thirdly, wherever possible, schools have invested in improving indoor air quality. Fourthly, schools are trying to do pool saliva testing of all the students once a week so that they can catch cases early. Rather than closing the school, they might close one class down.
It’s important to note that in India, currently, the COVID-19 vaccine is available for children aged 12-17. For those below 12, there is no vaccine available at the moment. Vaccination opened for teens in the 15 to 17 age group on January 3 amid the third COVID wave in India. So far, 9.8 crore vaccine doses have been administered in the said group.
Later, on March 16, vaccination for children aged 12-14 began and as per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2.39 crore vaccine doses have been given in the same group.
While it’s clear that schools or any activity for that matter can’t be shut for an indefinite period, does this mean that the governments should bring back the mandate on wearing a face mask? Responding to the query, Dr Shashank Joshi, Member, Maharashtra COVID Task Force said,
Currently, the level of transmission is very low. If the level is low, the likelihood of getting the virus is also very low. Most people for the next three to four months are reasonably protected. But, elderlies and those with comorbidities are vulnerable to the infection, especially in indoor spaces. Masking is desirable in close and poorly ventilated areas. We need to encourage masking as a health habit independent of COVID. We have to live with respiratory viruses probably for the next decade.
Dr Dhiren Gupta, Paediatrician, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi shared similar views and is against the closure of schools, malls, tourism and any other institution or activity. In an interview with news agency ANI, he said,
We need to stay calm but cautious, there’s no need for a knee-jerk reaction as of now. We have almost developed herd immunity against the virus. We should keep wearing masks.
While concluding, Dr Joshi stressed upon vigilance in terms of surveillance – both sentinel surveillance (testing) and genomic surveillance. He added,
Remember, COVID is an airborne droplet infection. It’s the air circulation that we need to focus on. We need to ramp up the test-treat-track strategy. There is no need to panic but we need to be vigilant.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.