Investigation

COVID-19: How schools strive to protect pupils after resumption amid fear

As pupils and students resume for learning amid a second wave of Coronavirus in Nigeria, some parents have expressed worries over the sanitation, hygiene facilities and practices in the schools their children attend. It is this fear that propelled ISIOMA MADIKE, who went round some of these schools to ascertain the protocols put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus among students. His report

While preparing to resume classes after the first term holiday, the government directed schools to implement protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools. The requirements include arrangement of seats two meters apart, in order to maintain physical distancing, provision of a steady water supply, soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizer for personal hygiene, and use of infrared thermometers for temperature checks.

It was also directed that students must compulsorily wear facemasks while on school premises. In addition, Information, Education and Communication (ICE) materials are to be placed strategically to remind the school community of the safety measures.

Checks by our reporter revealed that most of the schools had started adhering to the preventive measures against all infectious diseases. When Saturday Telegraph visited some schools in Ogun and Lagos states, it was noticed that many primary and colleges are complying with the directive.

The schools are also implementing preventive measures to protect their pupils and students as well as staff members against contracting the infectious COVID-19. With the simple act of regular hand washing with soap and water germkillers, especially hand sanitizers, the schools were seen applying these techniques without panic that has enveloped the human race.

Some parents, however, expressed worries that sanitation and hygiene facilities and practices in the schools their children attend may not be up to the challenge presented by the pandemic.

Eight-year-old primary four pupil of Estate Primary School in Ogba, Lagos, Kafayat Balogun, was excited to be back in school after the holiday. She told our reporter that she had no problems adapting to the COVID-19 protocols because her school had long imbibed the practice. Balogun said it is now fun for her and other pupils even as she added that wearing a facemask has also been internalised by her and her friends at school.

She said: “The only thing I would say playing and joking with my friends as we are constantly reminded to keep a metre distance from one another. “But I’m always excited to be in schools because of my teachers and friends.”

For another primary six pupil in the same school, who gave her name only as Tiaba, the daily morning assembly where all students gather to sing and receive information, was the attraction for her to always want to be in school. “I love singing and we often learn new songs at the assembly gathering,” she said.

And while these pupils are thrilled that their schools have reopened along with about 449,444 other public primary schools across Lagos State, they have had to come to terms with the fact that they can no longer hug or huddle with schoolmates and friends like they did before the pandemic. Like others, their school has had to adopt guidelines and protocols from the state ministries of health and education, and this has changed the experience.

“We no longer hold the morning assembly because of social distancing guidelines, and school time has been cut to four hours a day, without extracurricular activities. We also regulate attendance so as to reduce the crowd. Pupils now take turns to come to school,” said a teacher in the school, who craved anonymity.

But that doesn’t discourage the pupils. “At least we are back in school and learning with friends, even though we’ve been asked to maintain social distance,” one of the students, added. Indeed, pupils of Estate Primary School, Ogba, have joined other schoolaged children in the new habit. A source in the school, who pleaded anonymity because “I’m a civil servant and not permitted to speak to the press”, told Saturday Telegraph that the school began an intervention in promoting hand-washing after the first index case, an Italian, who was positive to the virus in 2020. He said: “Our headmistress called a staff meeting then where she intimated all of us of the need to start the preventive measures in our primary school.

After the meeting, the school authorities provided money to buy hand sanitizers for all the classes and soaps for washing hands. Of course, cans were also provided and placed at strategic places in the compound for the purpose of hand washing.

“She did not stop there but invited some health officials to the school to give tips on how to live healthy and practice personal hygiene even after school hours. The pupils were enthusiastic about it and had happily keyed in to the strategy since that time. I can say we are first among equals in this regard. We love the fun-filled initiative because it makes hand washing a fun activity that kids love to practice.”

But a parent at a nursery and primary school in Ikorodu, said that hand washing in schools for pupils should be continued and not limited to only periods when there is a disease outbreak in the country.

The parent, who refused to give his name, advised that schools should always install hand washing bowls on school premises as being advocated by UNICEF for healthy living even after the Coronavirus plague.

He said that during the Ebola virus disease outbreak, many schools adopted the hand washing practice but regretted that the majority of them had long abandoned it. According to him, the current high rate of infectious diseases spread has made it relevant that schools bring back the hand sanitizer mechanism.

This, he said, is to ensure that everyone can be sanitized right at the school’s gate before entering. He added that before now, pupils and teachers, particularly in Lagos State, were being sensitized on the need to maintain proper hygiene on a regular basis during the morning assembly. He said: “If the programme was sustained, the pupils and students would have by now, got used to the practice and even teach their parents about it.

The state government should, as a matter of urgent priority, dispatch environmental health officers to schools to ensure con-tinued hygiene of the environment and protection of the children.”

At Kosofe Secondary School, Ketu, it was discovered that the school still has the wash hand basins used during the outbreak of 2014 Ebola disease in their entrance. The basins have, since last year, been activated as the students now use them.

Some parents said they have also resolved to ensure that their children always have hand sanitizers in their school bags, with instructions that they must use them often. One of such parents, who identified herself simply as Mama Ngozi, however, urged school administrators to invest in hand sanitizers for each classroom, saying that the sanitizers should be placed appropriately for the pupils.

“Buying a hand sanitizer should not be a big deal for schools; after all, parents paid development levies. Keeping the school disease-free is part of development and should be seen to be part of the school responsibility as well,” she said.

At the Community Junior High School, Alapere, Ketu, the Principal, Mrs. Abimbola Anjorin, was seen speaking with the students during their resumption. When this reporter approached her, Anjorin, who was reluctant to speak because of the civil service rules, however said what she was doing was only to remind the students of the protocols the government spelt out for all schools to observe in order to checkmate the rampaging virus.

“We do this every morning and at closing time so as to keep reminding ourselves of what we need to do at this pandemic period as spelt out by the government. As you may have observed also, we have all the things we were required in order and they are functioning. I’m sure your temperature was taken before you were allowed to enter into the compound; that is the standard here.

You may have also observed our wash hand basins in strategic places with sanitizers and the accompanying information. You can’t see our students and staff members not wearing their facemasks as well,” she said. It was the same story at Ijegun Primary School, Al-Aqeedat Model College, Ibeju-Lekki, and Winning Gate Schools, Alaso, all in Lagos State, as the pupils and students were seen masked up at the assembly gatherings. Hand washing basins and sanitizers as well as temperature reader were all in place at designated areas in the schools’ compounds.

Also at the famed Mayflower Private School, Ikenne, Ogun State, arrangement of seats, which the school spaced at two metres apart, in order to maintain physical distancing, was a delight that has now added to the esthetics of the beautiful school. Saturday Telegraph learnt that the school management in conjunction with some ex-Mays, as the old students are known, constructed additional buildings to accommodate the new arrangement.

Steady water supply, soap and alcohol- based hand sanitizer for personal hygiene, and use of infrared thermometers for temperature checks, are also in place. Visitors to the school are said to have been restricted.

For parents coming to do clearance for their children, their temperatures must be taken and their hands sanitized before they could be allowed into the compound. Even at that, they are not allowed to go beyond the director’s and accounts offices. No parent is allowed into the dormitories any longer. The same protocols are in place at the Eagles’ Schools, a private secondary school in Magboro, also in Ogun State.

A student of the school, who refused to give his name, said the new normal, especially the hand washing, has become a culture for both the students and staff members of the school. “We are also admonished to take this philosophy home to teach others, who may not be as privileged as we are,” he said.

Key to safe school protocols is the proper wearing of face masks, social distancing, proper and frequent hand washing, strengthening of referral systems and contact tracing. The provision of a designated holding area for sick pupils to wait for their parents and the installation of hand washing facilities with soap and water at multiple locations are compulsory for any school in Nigeria today. The outbreak of Coronavirus has long assumed a pandemic status across the globe.

It has brought in focus tonnes of information now disseminated on how best to prevent the infection. In Nigeria, many schools have had to internalise the preventive measures to protect their pupils and students. According to UNICEF’s report on the growing consequences of the pandemic on children, about 572 million students across 30 countries have been affected by school closures – or about 33 per cent of enrolled students worldwide.

With virtually all countries affected, panic has been the order of the day. However, information is now being disseminated on how best to prevent the disease. And considering that public-health specialists have stressed the importance of keeping hands clean during a viral outbreak, hand soaps and sanitizers are flying off the shelves. Nigerian schools are not left out of the Coronavirus panic as they have also taken to hand washing and gemkillers, especially hand sanitizers.

Before now, UNICEF, Reckitt Benckiser Nigeria Limited, makers of Dettol anti-germs soap, and many other concerned institutions and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been educating children about hand washing and other personal hygiene. With regular hand washing with soap and water, infants’ death due to diarrhoea-related diseases could also be prevented, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

To prevent the spread of germs and Coronavirus among pupils as well as teachers, Medfield Healthcare Limited, a school-based health management company, has also doubled its efforts in the hand-washing campaign in Lagos, especially to promote healthy living among learners in schools. Meanwhile, the Lagos State Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo, has directed schools to make water and sanitizers available to pupils to guard against the COVID-19 infection.

In a statement from the public affairs unit, Adefisayo urged school managers to provide hand-washing areas with water and soap as well as alcoholbased hand sanitizers in their schools to prevent possible spread of the disease. She advised that pupils and teachers be told to avoid using dirty hands to touch their noses, eyes and mouths and to avoid contact with people, who may be infected.

She also said the same habits should be practiced at home, assuring them that the government was doing its part to ensure the disease does not spread. In like manner, the Director-General, Lagos State Office of Education Quality Assurance (OEQA), Dr. Abiola Seriki- Ayeni, appealed to heads of schools and administrators to promote a thorough hand washing culture that includes running water and soap as a way of preventing the spread of the deadly Coronavirus.

“We kicked off with sensitization and capacity building for all stakeholders in education, especially teachers, parents and the sc hool management boards,” said Ayeni. The public affairs officer, OEQA, Emmanuel Olaniran, in a statement insisted that schools should install hand washing stands at strategic and accessible areas on the school premises for staff and students; provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers; ensure to keep fingers away from nose, eyes and mouth. According to the statement, “tissue papers should be made available to all students; contact with suspected infected people should be strictly avoided; students with suspected flulike symptoms or high temperature should be advised to stay at home; school leaders, students and families are advised to maintain a high level of personal and environmental hygiene to safeguard pupils.”

He said during routine monitoring exercises, OEQA evaluators will emphasise good hygiene practice and also monitor compliance in schools, adding that the importance of hygiene practice in schools and homes in the state as a preventive measure against the outbreak of Coronavirus infection cannot be overemphasized. He said adequate safety measures have been put in place by the state government.

Olaniran recalled that the Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, had said Coronavirus causes upper respiratory infection with flu-like symptoms such as stuffy nose, cough and sore throat. “The virus could be transmitted through coughing and sneezing and the touching of contaminated handles or surfaces,” he added. COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will, according to experts, develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalisation.

However, the most common symptoms they say are: fever, dry cough, tiredness, while less common symptoms include aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhoea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell, and a rash on skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes. Coronavirus disease began in China with a group of severe pneumonia cases, later identified to be caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2 in December 2019.

Thailand reported the first COVID-19 case outside of China on January 13, 2020, while Africa reported its first case in Egypt on February 14, 2020. Nigeria however, reported its index case of COVID-19 on February 27, 2020.

Today, virtually, all countries in the world are affected. The disease is associated with typical and atypical signs and symptoms, mimicking other common illnesses, especially malaria fever.

The country is now said to be in the phase of widespread community transmission as almost all the states have reported confirmed cases. The pandemic has shown a wide range of case-fatality rate (CFR) globally; this is assumed to be related to the demographics, existing health systems and probably other unidentified factors.

There has been a steady increase in the burden caused by the disease in Nigeria with a relatively stable CFR, which is said to be lower than the global CFR. Health systems have responded with the guidelines for prevention, management, and surveillance of the disease, while effort is being put in place to find a vaccine and a specific therapy for the cure of the disease.

The pandemic has had a severe effect on health systems globally, including an unintended disruption in the service delivery of other diseases. It is said to have the potential to disrupt the weak health system in Nigeria significantly. As such, non-pharmaceutical preventive measures that are cost-effective have been advocated in some quarters to be scaled up to prevent it from further incapacitating the already weak healthcare system.

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