With at least 30 students testing positive for Covid within a week of mandatory random testing being started in various schools of Punjab, medical experts urged caution, while stating that schools should immediately fall back on operating in a planned way — holding classes for shorter durations and in smaller batches.
Dr Baldeep Singh, a pediatrician based in Ludhiana and MD of Deep hospital said, “Vaccination for children is likely to begin by next month. Hence, till the time children can be inoculated, proper precautions are a must. Children have so far been studying from homes. If schools are reopening now, then it should be done with proper planning. They should call students in smaller batches and for a shorter duration. The longer they (the children) stay in schools, the higher are their chances of getting infected.”
The Punjab Government had directed the opening of schools for Class 10 and 12 on July 26, with in-person classes for everyone else starting from August 2 onwards. In the directions issued by the government, surprisingly, however, there was no mention of the strength of students who were to be called for in-person classes. Scenes of crowding during the morning hours or after school ended soon became common, with reports of social-distancing norms going for a toss soon starting to flow in from districts of Malaut, Bathinda, Ludhiana, Faridkot.
Students testing positive for Covid, hence, was a disaster waiting to happen, experts said.
Dr Vittul Kumar Gupta, Chairman of Malwa branch of Association of Physicians of India, said, ”Many schools are open for 6 hours in a day. Hence, naturally children must be eating their lunch together too during those hours. They must be drinking water from the same water taps as well because the one water bottle which they bring from home cannot last the entire day. They are likely to use the same shared toilets as well. Hence, I feel that students being called in smaller batches and for a shorter duration is the key here. I am not against the opening of schools, but there needs to be some planning. They should have Covid appropriate infrastructure as well.. like screens on their desks, sprinklers to sanitize classrooms. Social distancing needs to be maintained and for that, one needs to call students in smaller batches only for the main subjects.”
Many schools that cater to a large number of students per class have started holding classes in batches.
However, a majority of schools are continuing to hold packed classes, and with no checking of school campuses to ensure Covid conducive infrastructure and behaviour, the situation has become a little tricky.
“If students eat lunch during school hours, they are likely to share it with their friends as well. They will remove their masks to eat. Moreover, it is practically not possible for a small child to wear a mask from 8am to 2pm,” said a parent, whose child studies in a school of Ludhiana.
Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, nodal officer for Covid cases in Punjab said, “So far only two schools of Punjab, which are in Ludhiana, have been closed after reporting 20 cases. The other 10 cases are spread out in schools in various districts, where one particular class has been closed for 14 days and not the entire school. Regular sampling of students, as well as teachers, is going on in schools.”
Karamjeet Bath, deputy director of education department, who is handling Covid cases data added, “We are in the process of collecting data of positive cases and also that on exact sampling. However, compiled data is not yet available from all schools.”