Exceptional COVID-19 cases will close schools

Friday, March 13, 2020

As the number of Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients in South Africa climbed to 16 on Thursday, the Department of Education said schools will only be closed in exceptional cases.

In a circular to provincial education authorities, the department details steps to be followed in an effort to avert the Coronavirus adversely affecting teaching and learning.

The interim guidance, said the department, is intended to help administrators of childcare facilities and primary high schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among learners and staff.

“Information provided should help schools understand how to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. It also aims to help schools react quickly should a case be identified. The guidance includes considerations to help administrators plan for the continuity of teaching and learning if there is a need to quarantine learners or staff with schools or close schools as a result of the spread,” the circular reads.

Planning and preparing for possible community transmission was vital, the department said.

“Schools should prepare for the possibility of community-level outbreaks as well as possible recommendation from health officials of learners, staff or whole classes or grades to be quarantined at home,” the circular adds.

“School dismissal could be recommended in certain circumstances. Decisions about appropriate public health interventions should always be made in discussion with public health officials with access to all the relevant information.”

This includes information on if learners or educators should remain home from school for a period of time and whether learners in sections of a school or a whole school be dismissed.

Closing schools, however, would likely have dire consequences with knock-on effects, the department said.

“All decisions for learners to stay at home from school based on possible exposure to or infection with COVID-19 should be justified by available scientific evidence.”

The department has urged that teachers and learners who will be travelling internationally in the next months should consider postponing or cancelling trips that could expose learners and staff to potential community spread.

“Learners returning from travel to areas with community spread of COVID-19 must follow guidance on the NICD website,” the department said.

The department’s Director-General Mathanzima Mweli in the circular adds that there was no need to close down schools if a learner or staff members have been exposed to a suspected case of the virus while test results were outstanding.

However, reads the circular, the DG notes that all close contacts of a confirmed case needed to self-quarantine at home for 14 days while they were being monitored.

“They may not attend school. Learners who are not contacts of a confirmed case should not be prevented from attending school. Family and friends who have not had any close contact with the original confirmed case do not need to take any precautions or make any changes to their own activities such as attending childcare or educational settings or work, unless they feel unwell,” said the department.

In the case of a learner or staff members being confirmed to have contracted the virus, the department and health workers will identify people who have been in contact with the individual and advise on precautions to be taken.

The department said schools will only be temporarily closed should a public health official recommend so.

“During school dismissals, childcare programmes and schools may stay open for staff members (unless ill) while learners stay at home. Keeping facilities open will allow educators to develop and deliver lessons and materials remotely, thus maintaining continuity of teaching and learning. Furthermore, it would allow other staff members to continue to provide services to help with additional response efforts,” the circular adds. – SAnews.gov.za

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