GARDEN ROUTE DISTRICT NEWS - In response to media queries on the handling of Covid-19 cases at schools and publicising of information in the Western Cape, the province's education minister, Debbie Schäfer said that simply providing figures of cases in the absence of any context or relevant factual information would not be helpful, and could aggravate anxiety.
"Each case will have unique facts associated with it, which the schools will manage. Whilst we understand that the public is entitled to be informed of developments in the province, we also have a duty to ensure that information given does not compromise the confidentiality of our staff or learners, and that individual schools are not stigmatised.
"Our staff is under enough stress without their individual schools being named in the media, which will also lead to further enquiries and added pressure."
She said parents and staff at a school have the right to know about any case at their particular school, and thus schools are expected to keep staff and parents informed of the developments related to Covid-19, and the steps that have been taken to ensure their safety.
"With all the above in mind, we'll provide the number of cases per district. Please note, however, that the number of schools with confirmed staff cases does not mean that they contracted the virus at the school, nor does it mean that the school is at risk. In many of the cases, the staff member has not even returned to school since schools reopened as they fell ill before returning."
She said the WCED (Western Cape Education Department) has issued clear guidelines to schools on how to manage confirmed, and suspected, cases of Covid-19, as well as the preventative screening measures all schools must implement daily.
"These have been developed with the assistance of health authorities to ensure that our staff and learners are as safe as possible at school."
Each staff member and learner must be screened on arrival at school. This involves asking them a short list of questions about symptoms, as well as recording their temperature. This is the same process that is being followed by WCED officials at their offices.
"The efficacy of the screening process was demonstrated this week, when a staff member arriving at one of our schools was identified as experiencing symptoms during the screening process and was thus not allowed to enter. The staff member has tested positive."
Protocol for positive cases at schools
If the staff member or learner concerned has already been inside the school, the areas where they were present are sanitised. Other staff members or learners who have been in direct contact (e.g. a handshake or hug) will need to self-isolate for 14 days since their last contact.
"This does not necessarily require the closure of the entire school – in each case, an evaluation is made of the number of direct contacts and the areas where they were present. It is safe to say that we will all need to adapt to the “new normal” as we return to school, with all these new procedures in place – both at schools and in WCED offices," said Schäfer.
"While the infection rate in our communities continues to rise, it is to be expected that teachers will be amongst those infected. For the safety of all our teachers and learners, we want to reiterate the importance of applying the screening procedures every day, maintaining safe physical distances and practising the hygiene and safety protocols indicated by the department.
"The best way to counter the spread of the virus is to follow consistent safety procedures to keep staff and learners safe. I would like to thank all our schools that have been working hard to prepare for the arrival of learners next week, and who are implementing these safety procedures."
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