Surge in Covid-19 cases casts a shadow of concern as educational institutes reopen

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on September 30, 2021

Parents prefer the online option till vaccines for kids are made available

With about 30 MBBS students from Mumbai’s KEM Hospital testing positive for Covid-19, a shadow of concern looms over schools and educational institutions across the country that are in different stages of reopening.

The worrying feature in the Mumbai hospital case is that about 28 of them had reportedly been fully vaccinated. While one student has been admitted to the Seven Hills Hospital, the rest have been quarantined.

Over the last few days, cases are getting reported from educational institutions in various States, including a Covid cluster from a residential school in Karnataka. About 60 students from about 500 had tested positive, reports said, leading to the school shutting down the school till October 20.

Several States, including Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Telangana, for instance, opened schools for certain age groups from September 1. Recently, TN health officials reportedly said that about 400 students had tested Covid-positive after the State opened schools for senior classes. The State, however, looks set to proceed with its plans to open up classes from standards 1 to 8.

Maharashtra had aborted an earlier plan to open schools in the city, but plans to open schools from this week (October 4). Telangana, too, has had to deal with balancing reopening schools with rising cases.

An early advocate of reopening, Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, explains the concern should not be on the number of cases being reported, but on the outcome in terms of hospitalisation. A physician-epidemiologist and public policy specialist, Dr Lahariya, points out that Covid vaccines are not “disease preventing”. They only modify the disease, he says, adding that “at this stage of the pandemic, the increasing number of cases should not be a concern”.

Testing undertaken

On clusters being reported from schools, he says it was a good thing that educational institutions were undertaking testing to map the infection. “Children are naturally protected in this case,” he told BusinessLine, adding that there was no evidence that even if they picked up an asymptomatic or mild infection, there could be a longer or later impact of the illness.

Several schools are giving parents the choice of sending their children to school or continuing with the online option. Outlining the difficulties, a Bengaluru-based teacher observed that it was difficult to get even older students to maintain a distance or wear their mask for five to six hours. And that would only be more difficult with younger children.

Dr Lahariya clarified that children less than five did not have to wear a mask, and those in the 5 to 12 age group may need one. A mask was mandatory for children over 12 years, he said.

Vaccines for kids

Anxious parents prefer the online option for a little longer till vaccines for children are made available. But one parent pointed out that schools are reopening with teachers and school staff being fully vaccinated. But with fully-vaccinated people also getting infected in large numbers, this becomes a cause of worry.

The need for the physical school to open up becomes necessary in rural areas or economically backward regions, especially where online facilities are few. Dr Lahariya, further points out that even in the national capital, about five deaths have been reported from Covid in a month, from a population of about two crore. There is a strong case to open up schools for all age groups and not just the senior classes, he added.

Published on September 30, 2021

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