Health Ministry reports 288 school cases in a week, TTUTA queries numbers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo: Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh.

OVER 200 covid19 cases have been recorded among students and teaching staff over a four-day period.

This was revealed by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh at the weekly covid19 virtual press briefing on Wednesday.

Noting the information he was sharing was provided by the Ministry of Education, Deyalsingh said that between April 25 and 29, out of the 243 schools across the country, there were 288 positive cases among students and teaching staff.

“Of other tests done, 23 were negative. So those are the cases in the school system,” Deyalsingh said.

Education stakeholders have described this figure as alarming and hope the ministry holds an emergency meeting to decide its next move.

For that period the country recorded 2,887 new cases.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Deyalsingh said he was concerned by covid19 infections at schools but “at this stage of the pandemic, the option of shutting down and keeping people away from work or school is not recommended, because of the long-term socio-economic effects.”

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said any decision to reintroduce restrictions on businesses and schools would be done after holistic consideration of the effects.

“Speaking specifically about schools, the United Nations (UN) has advised that they should be the last to close, and the first to open, as the face-to-face education of children is considered a major governmental priority. Therefore, the UN advocates that in prioritising the imposition of pandemic restrictions, other sectors be considered for closing, with the closure of schools only as a last resort.”

She added, “The operation of schools or businesses, or churches, or bars etc in a pandemic is not solely determined by the Ministry of Education or any other ministry in a vacuum, it is a decision of the government, based on a variety of factors, the critical one being the health and safety of our citizens.”

Deyalsingh promised to share more data on the infection rate in schools once it becomes available.

“I don’t have a detailed breakdown for primary schools etc, I could get that from the (education) ministry. I just have gross numbers,” Deyalsingh said.

TT Unified Teachers Association vice president Marlon Seales said that figure for the number of cases recorded in one week is alarming.

File photo: Minister of Educatoin Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.

TTUTA’s major concern is the time it would take for district nurses to react. The district nurse is charged with managing and communicating covid19 data in the school system.

Newsday was told it takes up to five days for covid19 results to reach principals. By that time primary contacts would have spent up to a week mingling with peers.

Seales said, “The number that the ministry shared is alarming and there would be a worsening of the problem.”

Seales said the ministry must now move to quickly establish a system to expedite covid19 testing for students and teachers so schools can act to reduce the infection rate. “I suggest there be a dedicated pipeline dealing with covid19 testing (and) results in the school system.

“The association remains concerned about the fact that teachers and students are placed in a situation where they are constantly at risk. The information coming back from the health unit to principals is very slow. There is a communication gap and that is leaving our teachers and administrators from acting in a timely manner.

“We are having cases in schools but by the time the information comes back that person would have been in school for days, which means several other people have been infected.”The ministry recommends that suspected covid19 cases or those who are showing symptoms of the virus go into immediate quarantine to reduce any possible risk.

He added, “Even if they get a positive result from a private facility, only when they are given a positive result by a public health facility, you’re deemed as positive by the education health unit.”

Seales said TTUTA is concerned about reports of students’ unwillingness to adhere to covid19 guidelines, which he believes had a major part to play in a developing wave among the student population.

He was unable to give data on the total number of teachers who have contracted the virus and those that are in quarantine.

In Tobago, TTUTA Tobago officer Bradon Roberts said the covid19 school policy for the island has collapsed. He said Tobago principals have been reporting suspected and new cases daily.

He claimed students who develop flu-like symptoms are not staying home for one week and instead returning to class without doing any covid19 testing.

“This is a disaster in the making for Tobago schools and it is not being managed by the THA. There is no direction, their protocols have collapsed, no one tracking or tracing. What is happening is parents are calling the teachers, the child would stay away for seven days and then return to school. Sanitisation is done by the regular cleaners, even with confirmed cases.” THA’s Secretary for the Division of Health Wellness and Social Protection Faith BYisrael could not be reached for comment.

Newsday also tried contacting Sheera Carrington-James head of the Secondary School Principal Association.

Primary School Principal Association head Carlene Hayes said the numbers suggest the system is overwhelmed. She said the association has great concerns over the management of covid19 in schools.

She said parents are outraged after their children contract covid19 while in school.

“We also have instances where there is an ill person in the household and they are sending them to school because the child has no symptoms. If this continues the cases would increase.

“We know the ministry is trying its best, but we really need the support from home. Our hands are tied…We will agree with any move to keep our teachers and children safe. We hope the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health will meet and make a decision and make it quickly.”

Kevin David president of the National Parent/Teachers Association said its members are prepared to support a hybrid system that would help reduce the infection rate in the school system.