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Students are strongly being advised when schools reopen to follow the protocols issued by health authorities and the Ministry of Education.

The advice was given this morning during a virtual panel discussion hosted by the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training on the subject of COVID-19 and the safe return to school.

The panel, which included Acting Director of Medical Services, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Dr. Clyde Cave, and Junior Doctors/Paediatric Residents – Dr. Dario Nurse, Dr. Tanisha Austin and Dr. Anja Greaves, all answered ‘yes’ to the question: “Is it safe for children to return to the physical classroom setting?”

“Yes, remember nothing in life is without risk. We control those things we can with what we know.  It is possible to control things to be in a safe environment like school, bearing in mind the extreme benefit of education,” Dr. Cave stated.

To support her answer, Dr. Austin explained: “We have not stopped other areas of our daily life.  We continue to go to the supermarket; we continue to venture outside of our homes; the risk is the same. I would say once you continue to do all the protocols; you continue the mask wearing; you continue the hand hygiene, the distancing; we can get through this and we can beat this and we can definitely get back to school,” she said. In addition, Dr. Greaves noted: “Studies have shown that transmissions in school clusters have been next to minimal.”

The doctors also provided useful tips to the students on what they should do when school reopens. Those tips included the correct way to wear a mask; walking with two to three masks and a bag to place them in when finished, as well as a demonstration on the proper removal and disposal of a mask. Students were also told to only wear a mask for four hours at a time.

Dr. Nurse advised students who may have difficulties concentrating in exams while wearing a mask that they should practise now that they are at home wearing masks in incremental timeframes to help them to adjust and cope.

When asked about the wearing of face shields by students in the classroom, Dr. Cave responded: “In a high virus environment, you can wear a face shield along with your mask as an option. The mandated one is the mask because that gives us the biggest effect, biggest desirable effect for the smallest intervention, and probably the lowest cost, but yes, adding a face shield to that will protect your eyes.

“And also, when I first used it what I realised is it stopped my hands going to my face as much, and that’s something we also have to be aware of because we can transmit viruses to ourselves by touching surfaces and then transmitting it to our face directly. So, I don’t think it’s a requirement or a necessity that you cover your eyes, but if you have allergies and you’re constantly rubbing your eyes and you don’t wear glasses, yes goggles or a face shield,” he said.

Moderator for the panel discussion, Senior Education Officer, Patricia Warner, noted that revised protocols would be shared with all principals of primary, secondary and private schools once the decision to reopen schools is made.  Those protocols would be based on logistics that factor in the size and number of students in a classroom. 

sheena.forde-craigg@barbados.gov.bb

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