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Opinion: Should we keep closing schools due to COVID-19 cases?

The government closed schools in March to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and kept them closed until recently when they partially reopened. According to widespread reports, the government closed three schools in Mombasa as around 15 cases of COVID-19 infections struck the schools.

The schools that the government closed include Star of the Sea Grils Secondary School, Tononoka Boys’ Secondary School, and Mama Ngina Girls’ High School. There were 11 teachers from Tononoka and four from Mama Ngina who health officials confirmed positive for COVID-19.

“Tomorrow (Thursday) we shall have results for Star of the Sea,” said County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo.

Star of the Sea informed parents on the same as the school will undergo fumigation and as such, its operation will be temporalily suspended.

“All school operations are temporarily on hold from October 19th, 2020 to allow for fumigation of the school,” read a circular from Star of the Sea School management.

The move raises many questions about the future of schools, as COVID-19 seems to be going nowhere meaning we will have to get used to the new normal of living with COVID-19.  Cases might keep soaring as days go by and they might not even reflect the real situation on the ground.

The Ministry of Health has admitted before that, the number of cases reported may not mirror the real numbers as testing is not done in many places in the country. This means that individuals who might not be showing symptoms can spread the virus to vulnerable persons like the old folk or people living with pre-disposing ailments like diabetes and HIV/AIDS.

So where does this leave the situation regarding the full reopening of schools or continuation of learning for students already in schools? This might a tough question but the disease will keep teaching us new lessons and we should also sympathize with the government, as this can be a thankless task at times like this.

Schools abroad have also had to close due to a surge in COVID-19 cases but we can do better as we do not have as high a number of cases as the United States of some European countries.

The problem, which Education CS Magoha admitted long before reopening of schools, is social distancing.

The current state of schools is worrying as they normally take as many students as possible. In public schools, for instance, free education covers a fraction of the required school fee. This increased the population in schools as more children got access to free education.

If health officials find a teacher or a student to be COVID-19 positive while in school, should we close the entire school? The ‘true’ answer lies with the experts who have faced the pandemic head-on but we cannot help but imagine if we could have prepared for this better.

If the schools with cases close, when will they resume? What disadvantage will they face by being at home while other schools are still open? Everything seems to be up in the air and the closed schools will face those challenges on their own.

Personally, I could prefer if the government had some teachers on standby from the nearby areas in cases that do affect some schools as it happened on the Coast. Schools should send home students whom health officials confirm as having COVID-19 but not upon recovery, the government should allow them back to schools.

I believe a timeframe of a week or two may not affect a student that much as schools can organize and provide study materials, assignments, or even online lessons while they recover. For serious cases, however, treatment should have first priority as life comes before anything else.

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