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No community spread determines schools return to normal

“Reckless and insensitive” is how the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) describes the authorities’ decision to remove physical distancing in schools as “there is currently no community transmission of COVID-19 in Grenada.”

In a message from the Office of Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Shawn Charles earlier this week, justification was made for allowing schools to return to normal seating capacity, stating that this “will not carry additional risk.”

The CMO said that “the focus at this time should be on educating everyone, and staff and students, adhering to the recommended hygienic measures, which include mask wearing and sanitization. Since research has shown that staff will be the most likely source of infection for other staff members, attention should be given to ensuring their compliance with the health protocols.”

However, President of the GUT, Marvin Andall in a statement said “It is quite obvious that there is a spike in the occurrence of new COVID-19 cases in Grenada [and] Community spread could be just one case away.”

Currently, Grenada has recorded 33 positive COVID-19 cases, with three active cases.

Andall stated that “Although the authorities are doing a good job at the ports of entry, it is well-known that the movement of persons outside of the recognised ports do occur.”

He pointed out that while the “science suggests that transmission of the virus among children under the age of 12 is rare, the same science suggests that risk for those above the age of 12 is not too dissimilar to that of adults,” stressing that there are thousands of  students above the age of 12.

“We cannot afford to let our guards down. We cannot be teaching our students to disregard physical distancing in the classroom because they will disregard it everywhere else,” President Andall said.  

Nonetheless, CMO Charles noted that the justification for the return to normal distancing at schools is outlined in the World Health Organization (WHO) summary of research on COVID-19 in children and in schools:

● Infection in children generally causes mild disease. Serious illness due to COVID-19 is seen only infrequently. Young children seem to have lower susceptibility to infection compared to adults, with susceptibility generally increasing with age.

● Current evidence from contact tracing and cluster investigations also suggests that children are less likely than adults to be the main transmitters of infection.

● Studies in educational settings suggest that the introduction of the virus generally started with infected adults. Staff-to-staff transmission was more common than staff-to-student transmission and student-to-student transmission was rare.

● A clear causal role for schools in community resurgence has currently not been demonstrated.

● Overall, most evidence from countries that have reopened schools or never closed them suggests that schools have not been associated with significant increases in community transmission.

● Risk of an outbreak in schools and other settings where young people congregate is determined in large part by the background community transmission and settings linked risk amplifiers.

As it relates to the situation within the State of Grenada, the CMO in his message stated that:

● Grenada’s current epidemiological status with regards to COVID-19 remains safe, despite there being one or more cases that are imported. There is no evidence of community spread of the disease.

● The Ministry of Health continues to have good control over the introduction of COVID-19 in Grenada through the aggressive implementation of public health control measures. Therefore, in this situation, schools are allowed to open (or re-open) at normal capacity.

● According to UNICEF, the adverse effects of school closures on children’s safety, well-being and learning are well documented. Disruptions to instructional time in the classroom can have a severe impact on a child’s ability to learn.

● Schools are not merely centers for learning. They are also safe havens for many children. Being out of school also increases the risk of teenage pregnancy, sexual exploitation, violence and other threats.

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