The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the agency that is responsible for the health and welfare of the Americas has cautioned Governments of the region to adopt a cautious approach when it comes to the reopening of schools.
This warning was issued against the backdrop of a surge in infections among children due to the Delta variant. While recognizing the need to have children at school, since most of the 101 million children of school age have been out of the physical classroom for more than a year, the organization is of the view, that reopening physically should not be at the expense of the children’s health.
In this regard, PAHO is warning against any undue haste to have all the children back out to physical school at the same time when the new academic year 2021/2022 begins in September.
PAHO is suggesting that member countries reopen schools on a phased basis for face-to-face interaction in light of the continued evolution of the virus and low vaccination rates among member countries.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has advised that only vaccinated students will be entitled to face-to-face learning from October 1st, 2021, while the rest of the student population will be engaged in virtual learning.
According to PAHO‘s Director Dr. Carissa Etienne, individual countries must take into consideration, their epidemiological situation including the rate of infections, vaccination uptake, and even the level of infections among the school-aged population.
Dr. Etienne noted that this can change quickly, taking into consideration the evolving nature of the virus.
At this juncture, countries such as Jamaica, St Lucia, St Kitts/ Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago continue to experience high levels of infections, although in the case of the latter, infections seemed to have plateaued over the last month and about 25% of the school-aged population has been vaccinated.
Dr. Etienne further noted that while the reopening of schools should be the priority for all Governments, the Americas have become the epicenter for infections; therefore the children will be more at risk when schools are reopened.
She opined that the safest way to reopen schools will depend on the abilities of the countries to suppress the virus.
One sure way to do this is through vaccination of the population and this has been very low in the region.
Either way, the children are the biggest losers in this pandemic; being deprived of face-to-face interaction robs them of the opportunity to socialize with their peers, and reopening the physical school exposes them to a raging and dangerous virus.
This is a classic case of being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.