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Returning to School Safely

Dr. Joanne Paul- MBBS (UWI), FRCPCH (UK), FRCP (Edin)

When I was doing my internship as a doctor, we had rotations in general medicine, surgery, obstetrics, paediatrics, community, and your choice of specialty for a 3-month elective. These rotations gave you experience to convert the theory of medical school to the actual practice of being a doctor while still having someone supervise everything you were doing. It also was important to help you decide in what field you wanted to specialise. I have a strong sense of smell and I remember choosing paediatrics mainly because the children smelled of soap, baby oil and baby powder. The reason eventually migrated to the beauty of childbirth, that strange moment of stillness, that moment the universe holds its breath as the new-born is delivered and starts to cry for the very first time.  The specialty choice then became paediatric emergency, and the reason became leading the team in the resuscitation room orchestra to get that sick child better. For every sick child though, there was the parent, at their most vulnerable and yet at their most protective. The parents who were VIP’s, known criminals, market vendors, medical staff, whatever, were all the same, a mixture where they would literally do anything for their child and fight anyone to protect their child yet the deepest quivering vulnerability in the pools of their eyes when they turned and asked, ‘is my child going to okay?’


Fast forward that to 2022 and the pandemic and the aspect of children going back out to school and see the juxtaposition of opinions born out of the same raw vulnerability and mama and papa bear protectiveness. Secondary school children and SEA children are back out, and the rest of primary school children are due to be back out from April. A complex multifactorial situation with so many aspects to consider.


Having our children in school could increase their risk of covid 19 infection and increase its spread. There could also be a projected increase in MISC infection. Having SEA pupils come back out face to face increases their risk of being infected and missing the said SEA exam for which they are preparing. Most schools have small, overcrowded classrooms where physical distancing is difficult. We are not ready. Covid is far from over


On the other hand, our children have been home almost 2 years and that leads to untold mental health injury and social skills decline. Boys especially were falling through the cracks with the online school, and many children were being lost, hopefully reversibly so. Many countries in the rest of the world have schools restarted. If not now, when. Covid 19 will be endemic and will be a constant reality with the same said risks so what is different if we do it in April or September or 2023. It also allows parents to get back to work with a positive effect on the economy.


Which view is correct? We have to stop thinking of science and data as binary, either yes or no, right or wrong. It is sometimes about various factors, timing, population nuances and weighing the risk verses benefit, weighing public health, individual choice and our children inherent needs and making a decision. What I want to focus on is what can we do to protect their children during the back-to-school process.


The following excerpt is from Dr Paula Robertson, Paediatrician, member of TEL institute

How do we navigate this in person return to school safely?


Well, we can first look towards countries that have had a proven successful track record in navigating the pandemic with low mortality rates, such as Japan, where ‘avoiding the 3 C’s’ has been universally practiced:

  1. Avoiding closed spaces – ensuring adequate ventilation and free movement of air is vital. Allowing good ventilation in classrooms by opening multiple doors and windows, using fans, encouraging free air flow, and improving air filtration systems should also be used if outdoor spaces are difficult to access
  2. Avoiding crowded areas – practicing social distancing and avoiding large crowds with many people nearby.
  3. Avoiding close contact settings, such as close-range conversations and group gatherings.

One of the features of the Covid 19 virus is that the risk of clusters of infection is especially high when the 3Cs overlap – i.e., close contact crowds in poorly ventilated closed spaces. Practicing avoidance of the 3 Cs together with other established public health measures like vaccination of eligible persons, hand washing, sanitizing, mask wearing (especially indoor mask wearing) and monitoring of symptoms are key tools in our fight against the spread of covid 19 infection in our schools and communities.

It is also important that we support their mental health by encouraging school counsellors, teachers and support staff or resources such as those offered by Childline, Find Care TT crisis support directory and the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists (TTAP) to talk through and help our young people deal with overwhelming emotions or anxiety on return to in-person classes.


Is your child going to be okay? Into the pools I peer. As principals, educators, health professions, parents, officials, decision makers, let’s instead do our 300% best to make it okay because as papa and mama bears, we are all a juxtapose of protective alpha and just being scared




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