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There is no reason to keep schools closed

COMMENTARY
By Tony Sisule | September 10th 2020

Children play at their home in Lessos village, Nandi County on July 13, 2020. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Closing schools may have been a necessary precaution at the outset of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Erring on the side of caution was appropriate in early stages of the outbreak because there was a dearth of data to understand how children cope with the illness.

Well, the jury is no longer out and there is a preponderance of scientific evidence from many countries showing Children below 18 are the age cohort with the least infection rates from Covid-19, and they spread it less.

Closing schools for such a prolonged period has done severe harm to children, though it was justified before this evidence emerged. Continuing to keep children out of school any longer when overwhelming scientific evidence shows there is little harm in reopening them is irresponsible, and will do permanent damage to children, families and the economy.

The scientific evidence, taken together with the precipitous decline in Covid-19 cases in Kenya, as well as the fact that few children in Kenya have tested positive for the disease, should give Kenya the confidence to reopen schools now. Children have missed learning, forfeited interaction with their friends, and gone without the care and sustenance that schools provide.

The economy has lost a great deal from school closures, illustrated by laid off teachers and workers in private schools.

In Switzerland and Germany, schools reopened in May 2020 when Covid-19 cases were still rising, and there was no spike in the infections among children, teachers or their communities.

A Dresden University Hospital study of 2,000 students aged 14 to 18, and teachers in Saxony, Germany, tested for antibodies to Covid-19 found that schools did not contribute to the spread of the illness.

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The study included testing in schools with coronavirus outbreaks. Out of the 2,000 samples, only 12 had antibodies to Covid-19, showing that children barely got the infection or spread it in the community.

“Children may even act as a brake on infection,” Reuters quoted Reinhard Berner from the Dresden University Hospital saying, citing the evidence that infections in schools had not led to an outbreak.

The conclusion of the study was that schools in the state could reopen as normal and use masks for teachers and workers, as well as good hygiene and social distancing where possible to address the low risk of infection.

There is no reason why Kenya and other countries cannot reopen schools now. There is little need for masks for children or building of many new classrooms for social distancing as the infection rates among children are low.

Masks are generally not recommended by health authorities in many countries for young children, especially those aged below 10 years, as they are unnecessary and can cause harm to children.

Only teachers and workers in schools will need masks and social distancing as a precaution in case they have an asymptomatic Covid-19 infection. The investments needed for school reopening in Kenya are low. Officials should not waste scarce resources in an economy in recession on unnecessary expenditure that will result in corruption.

A study by the US Centers for Disease Control in 14 states between March 1 and July 25, found that the cumulative rate of hospitalisation for Covid-19 among children (below 18 years) at 8 per 100,000 population was much lower than for adults at 164.5 per 100,000 population.

Lung disease

However, one third of these children were admitted to an ICU, mainly those with preexisting conditions such as obesity and chronic lung disease. Thankfully for Kenyan children, obesity and chronic lung infections among them are still very low.

A peer-reviewed study published in the British Medical Journal by doctors and scientists who carried it out in 260 hospitals in England, Wales, and Scotland on cases up to July 17, confirmed that when children and young people get Covid-19, they have less severe conditions.

The exclusion of children from schools is not necessary any more given the credible scientific evidence that has emerged. Unless the closure of schools ends now, many children will drop out. Many girls are being abused, becoming pregnant, and getting forced into marriages, shattering their dreams forever.

-Mr Sisule is an adviser at the Permanent Delegation of the Commonwealth to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland. This article does not represent views of any organisation. @tonysisule

Covid 19 Time Series

 

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