CHANDIGARH: Keeping in view of re-opening of schools after the second wave of SARS-CoV-2, the Health Minister Mr. Balbir Singh Sidhu on Thursday directed all the Civil Surgeons to ensure COVID-19 Surveillance in Schools as per SOPs recommended by the committee of experts.
The Health Minister said that to prevent any major outbreak of COVID-19 among children in schools, instructions have been issued to all the Civil Surgeons to prepare a micro-plan which provides data of suspected cases and COVID tests to be conducted in their respective districts.
Mr. Sidhu said that it is responsibility of schools management to educate their teachers, staff and students on COVID-19 prevention measures. He said that schools must develop a schedule for daily cleaning and disinfection of the school environment, facilities and frequently touched surfaces, and ensure availability of hand hygiene.
He said that schools should enforce the policy of “staying home if unwell” and also ensure students or staffs who have been in contact with a COVID-19 case to stay home for 14 days. However, physical distancing of at least 6 feet between individuals can be maintained by spacing of desks, staging recesses, breaks and lunch breaks; limiting the mixing of classes and of age groups; considering smaller classes or alternating attendance schedules, and ensuring good ventilation in classrooms, frequent hand and respiratory hygiene, and environmental cleaning measures should be in place to limit exposure.
Mr. Sidhu clarified that class must be suspended and quarantined for 14 days if one COVID-19 case is confirmed and school must be suspended for 14 days if two or more than two COVID-19 cases are detected. He said that if one-third of the schools in a city or town or block are closed then all schools in that geography must be closed.
Referring to the necessary prevention measures, Mr. Sidhu said that students and staff should be screened by non-contact thermometers at entry and exit points on routine basis and syndromic surveillance must be carried out for Influenza like illness to detect suspected COVID-19 cases. He said that suspected cases should be sent home and tested for COVID-19 and they should not be allowed to come to the school until tested negative or symptoms get resolved. If tested positive, he/she should be isolated and treated as per COVID-19 treatment protocol.
The Health Minister added that contact tracing and their testing should be conducted as per the COVID-19 protocols and absent students must be contacted by the class teacher for enquiring about the symptoms of Influenza like illness. He said that if the number of students with influenza like illness who are absent or sent home reaches 5% of the total school attendance on a given day, local health authorities must be alerted for suspected outbreak or if from same class, three or more students with influenza like illness are absent or sent home on a given day, local health authorities must be alerted for suspected outbreak.
Mr. Sidhu said that the probability that a single case or more than one case becomes an outbreak depends upon how strictly the school follows mitigation/preventive measures. He said that a nodal officer must be appointed in the school who will compile the screening data of whole school like the number of suspected cases detected, number of suspected cases tested, number of suspected cases tested positive etc. He/she will share a daily report with the district administration.
Pointing out the importance of testing Strategy for reducing the COVID-19 transmission among children, he said that the first priority of testing strategy is to ensure that access to Rapid Antigen Testing & RTPCR Testing should be available for any student or school staff showing symptoms of COVID-19. He said that since taking nasopharyngeal samples from the children need special skills, school administration must identify the local testing centers for testing children & staff.
Mr. Sidhu said that schools have a positive impact not only on education but also on health and development thereby Punjab Government has allowed students to complete their studies and also have access to nutrition services (mid-day meal), and opportunity for enjoying social relationships with their peers.