Back-to-school tips amid COVID-19

IS it safe for children to return to school?

This is arguably the main question on the minds of many, as parents prepare to send their children, who will be sitting external exams next month, back to the classroom tomorrow — more than two months after the closure of schools on March 13 to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

According to director of health promotion and education in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Takese Foga, it is safe, provided the established precautionary and protective measures are followed.

“We recognise the fact that COVID-19 is still a risk, however… from a Ministry of Health perspective… there are precautions that need to be taken in order for it to be safe — as long as precautions are put in place,” she told the Jamaica Observer on Friday.

Those precautions, she said, include proper hand hygiene practices, respiratory hygiene practices and the observance of physical distancing guidelines.

Acknowledging that the apprehension now being felt by some — whether parents, teachers or students — is natural, Foga said those returning to the classroom for preparation sessions ahead of the start of exams will be greeted by a new-look learning space.

“In terms of the children, they are going back to an area in which physical distance is going to not just be promoted, but facilitated.

“So the classrooms that they will be in, or whatever space that they will be occupying, will have physical distance markers. As stated by the Ministry of Education, they will be putting their measures in place to ensure that students are, as required, six feet away from each other…

“Temperature checks are definitely a part of what will be facilitated… In terms of the wearing of masks, that would be a whole new thing for them, so we expect that the children will be wearing masks into the schools.

“It is stated that… if the physical distancing is observed for six feet, they will be able to take off their masks during that period,” she said.

“But once, of course, they’re called into an area where they will be among a number of persons, then the mask needs to be put on again,“ Foga said, adding that though hand washing has always been emphasised, it will be stressed even more now.

“And so we definitely would want parents to send their children [to school] with hand sanitiser, with an extra mask, if it is possible, with tissue, because, of course, the right thing to do if they are sneezing is to sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away,” she suggested.

The health promotion and education director said, too, that one of the biggest changes for students will be how they interact with their peers.

“Parents will have to start from now to speak to their children, just getting them sensitised and prepared mentally for… the fact that they won’t be able to interact with their friends as they would, normally. So, it is usual, after not seeing each other for awhile, for there to be hugs and all sorts of greetings, but we are saying that they are not to do so,” she told the Observer.

Since people can have COVID-19 and be asymptomatic, she reinforced the importance of adhering to physical distancing guidelines while still being social, suggesting air high-fives instead of hugging.

The health promotion and education director also provided a few tips for parents, teachers and students.



“As they prepare to send out their children… speak to them about any fears that they have, any concerns that they have. We do know that it’s preparation for the exams, so that alone in itself can be stressful.

“So it’s just speaking out about the issues, because that in itself is one of the ways we help to reduce stress — just being able to share and to validate the fact that these are real concerns and these are real issues, and just to reassure them of their support and the support of the teachers and their guidance counsellors,” Foga said.

Additionally, she said parents should remind children of three key messages:

1.Hand hygiene

“It is important that they wash their hands with soap and water at every opportunity they are able to, and when they are not able to go, that they must use their hand sanitisers,” she said.

2.Respiratory hygiene

“Remind them that if they are coughing or sneezing, it is important they they do it into their tissue. Ideally, it should be thrown away into a bin, which we hope that each of the classrooms will have. If they don’t have it, there’s a bag that they can dispose of it in until they can get to a bin, that’s also recommended.

“For their wearing of masks, which is also considered a part of respiratory hygiene… they should give them a small bag so they will be able to take it off when they are sitting down [and] ensure that it’s in a safe space, its not in an area that’s going to be contaminated. So just have a little bag that they can put the mask in when they are not wearing it — so it shouldn’t be on their laps, it shouldn’t be just on the desk, it shouldn’t be just on their head — it should be in the bag until they are ready to wear it again,” Foga said.

She also urged parents to remind children that when they are taking off their mask or putting it on, they should use their hand sanitiser to clean their hands. Also, when wearing it and they need to adjust it, they should sanitise before touching the mask.

3. Physical distancing guidelines

“Again, the parents should be reminding their children, as much as its going to be really exciting to see their friends after not seeing them for awhile, let them show their love in ways that do not require them to be in [contravention] of physical distance guidelines… So they have to avoid the hugging, the shaking of hands,” she said, adding that people just cannot operate in that way right now.


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