Students to wear masks when school returns
Children returning to school next week will have to wear masks throughout the day, according to Covid-19 safety protocols.
Diallo Rabain, the minister of education, outlined the measures that will be required for public school students when the new term starts next week.
Mr Rabain said yesterday that the island had been classified as being in Phase Three of four potential categories.
The health department guidelines state that, in Phase Three, there is minimal risk of infection for the general population and very low numbers of staff and students are affected.
But the guidelines also stipulate that students from Year 4 and above, and staff, must wear a mask at all times, and desks must be three feet apart. Students are also advised not to share materials.
Kim Wilson, the health minister, said she had heard concerns from some parents about the mandatory wearing of masks.
But she insisted that they were essential in reducing the spread of the virus.
Ms Wilson said: “As children head back to the classroom, in the middle of a serious outbreak, the ministry of health is working closely with the ministry of education to protect the health and safety of the students, teachers and staff in all of our island’s schools, and we are using multiple layers to provide the greatest level of protection.
“Our layered approach is similar to wearing a hat, scarf, gloves and a warm coat in freezing weather – each layer provides an added level of protection from the cold.
“The pandemic is far from over, and while the vaccine is the most effective protection available, masks, when worn correctly, effectively reduce the spread of the coronavirus in schools.
“To avoid scenarios where classes go remote just as the school year begins our approach to keeping our children, teachers, and staff safe from the coronavirus is a layered approach.”
Ms Wilson said Government was encouraging all eligible teachers and students to be fully vaccinated and have families participate in a saliva screening programme
Other guidelines include; maintaining appropriate physical distancing at least three feet between students within classrooms; avoiding poorly ventilated areas; frequent handwashing; and cleaning and disinfecting touchpoints.
“Masks significantly protect both the persons who are wearing them and the people around them. Wearing a mask will also help decrease the number of symptomatic respiratory illnesses that children have,” added Ms Wilson.
“This is especially important for students as children under 12 are unvaccinated, and children have been involved in the start of the present outbreak driven by the delta variant, which now has over 200 positive cases.
“Infected children can take the virus home to unvaccinated friends and relatives.”
Ms Wilson said that four camps were hit by the delta variant during the summer break.
“In quite a few instances, these children went home and unknowingly passed the infection to someone else in their household, and, subsequently, this led to positive cases in workplace settings as well,” Ms Wilson said.
“Similar clusters of cases in schools can occur if protocols are not followed, such as mask-wearing.”
Ms Wilson said that Government was taking “a cautious approach” in order to protect students and staff.
“I cannot stress enough that our children’s wellbeing and safety is our main priority,” she said.
“We believe that our prevention strategies, if strictly adhered to, can maintain in-person learning, even during high transmission levels in our community.
“As a community, we all want what is best for our children, and in-school learning is certainly the desired objective.”
Mr Rabain acknowledged that there had been some “uneasiness” in the community about the measures Government was taking, but insisted that safety was a priority.
He also said it was essential for schools to remain open to avoid the disruptions and strains of home schooling.
Saliva screening programmes introduced last year will continue, but students must have parental consent.
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