Even as the Karnataka government has decided to reopen schools for students in classes VI to VIII from September 6, an expert committee of the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association (PHANA) has stated that it would be premature to reopen schools at present.
The PHANA expert committee report on preparedness for a possible third wave of Covid has cited the example of Israel which reopened schools but was compelled to shut them within a week since 100 per cent of the fresh Covid cases were traced to schools. “In the US, schools have been repeatedly opened and shut due to the Covid-19 spread. South Korea deferred its opening five times. In the US, 4.3 million children have so far been infected. More children in the US are being hospitalised now with serious infection than at any point in this pandemic. But if there’s a window for us to prepare, we should take it.”
The report also acknowledged that a large section of children does not have access to online education. PHANA suggested that the reopening of schools should be staggered since a lot of uncertainties are involved. “WhatsApp messages cannot have a huge impact on learning. We should open schools but not in a black and white manner. We should have parent-teacher meetings to discuss plans for when cases go up. It will be a fluid situation, at least for some months. There will never be an ideal time. There are uncertainties. And there are risks. We need to take baby steps, in a staggered form and gradually increase school hours and the number of children. Take all precautions and see how it goes,” the report suggested.
The association has said it is in favour of collaborating with government hospitals in dealing with Covid and has suggested that private hospitals should follow the hub-and-spoke model to conduct vaccination drives across cities and towns.
The report was prepared under the guidance of Dr Hema Divakar, Medical Director of Divakar’s Specialty Hospital, and was submitted to state Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar.
The report stated that all hospitals should address vaccine hesitancy and, in addition, corporate sectors and industries should jointly conduct large drives with vaccination centres.
It called for research-linked data documentation wherein all private hospitals should use a common template and colour-coded document for Covid-19 case sheets. “This will help disseminate Covid-19 case-related information accurately and speedily through physical as well as electronic transfers to the state nodal centres. Early detection of a rise in infections and acting early is the only way to suppress the next wave before it begins,” it read.
The committee’s action plan for the third wave includes linking the PHANA bed portal to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s bed portal for uploading the status of bed availability.
The association also made other recommendations including appointment of a full-time emergency operations task force, infection prevention team, drawing up a bed capacity plan, advanced plans to handle critical patients, training healthcare workers and incorporation of advanced therapies like mechanical ventilation and ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).
The committee suggested that the focus should be on micro-containment zones so that the spread of the virus is curbed while normal activities remain unhindered. Moreover, tracing and tracking should be enhanced and those who do not comply with Covid guidelines in containment zones should be dealt with legally.
Alluding to logistical challenges in vaccine distribution, PHANA suggested child immunisation programmes are well-established platforms that could be leveraged to deploy Covid-19 vaccines, especially through public-private partnerships.
“Expanding access points through mobile teams and pharmacies – a frequent practice for seasonal flu vaccines – will also be critical. Ultimately, the success of such plans depends on funding and political commitment. Yet funding to support these efforts is not in place. Advocates can demand that governments expand the capacity to deliver vaccines and share national deployment plans with the PHANA,” the report said.
The panel has recommended discontinuation of the use of remdesivir in hospitalised Covid-19 patients who are stable enough for discharge and do not require supplemental oxygen.
Health minister Dr Sudhakar has said the suggestions will be discussed with the technical advisory committee.