Are We Re-Opening Schools Prematurely?
On Monday 11 May, schools in Sydney began the delicate process of re-opening its doors to students. Meanwhile, in America, reports are circulating that recent respiratory-related illnesses in children and youths could be linked to COVID-19.
The Novel Coronavirus is a recent disease that has blindsided the world. There are still many things about the virus that we do not know. What we do know is that social distancing can effectively curb its deadly spread. We also know that the economy cannot stay shut indefinitely and children cannot stay at home forever. At some point, we need to take a step forward. But are we doing it too soon?
Are we re-opening schools prematurely?
How Safe Is ‘Safe’?
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian aims to have all students back to full-time schooling by Term Three. But the Premier is not taking it for granted. In recent weeks, schools throughout NSW have received a staggering supply of over half-a-million health and safety items including hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and soaps. Handheld thermometers will be used. Classrooms have been reconfigured to incorporate safe distance studying and additional cleaning has been organised for classrooms, playgrounds, staffrooms, and common areas.
Despite all these measures, the Premier was quick to point out that clusters of outbreaks could still happen. On Thursday, three days after NSW kids returned to school, an employee tested positive in a public school in Sydney West. The school was immediately shut for deep cleaning and contact tracing. All students and staff who had close contact with the affected employee were told to stay at home and to self-isolate.
The NSW state is taking the health and wellbeing of every staff, student, and parent seriously. Closing and re-opening schools may be the new normal for some time yet. These measures are extremely disruptive. They may not suit every student or parent. But we may not have a choice. At least until a vaccine is found.
A Second Deadly Wave
Every news media in the world is talking about a spike. In the Northern Hemisphere, Summer is just around the corner but scientists and medical experts are investigating the possibility of a second, deadlier spike in autumn.
Unfortunately, Australia will be one of the firsts to test this theory. Less than a month from winter, our nation will be in the frontline of a possible resurgence of the virus in the colder winter months.
The Australian Health Department has issued numerous advice to Australians to get their flu vaccinations. While the flu vaccine cannot prevent coronavirus, it can eliminate the risk of a flu outbreak. The last thing our government needs is a flu outbreak because it can overwhelm existing medical resources. In the event of a Coronavirus spike in winter, our nation will need every hospital bed, respirator, and health care professional to be available for COVID-19 patients.
Do we know whether winter will cause a spike in Coronavirus? The answer is simply we do not. The world has not experienced a full cycle of this virus. We cannot predict what form it will take in winter. We can say that the deadliest impact so far has been in countries that were experiencing colder weather at the start of the outbreak. But many of these countries were not practising social distancing, testing, or contact tracing at the time. Australia has implemented all these measures. Let’s hope they will work in the coming months.
Is There A Link With Kawasaki Disease?
There have been numerous articles about Kawasaki Disease and a possible link to coronavirus. The disease was first reported in Europe several weeks ago.
In the epicentre of the pandemic – the United States of America – the CDC has just issued a nationwide alert to doctors around the country to be on the alert for a rare inflammatory disease that is affecting children. The American experts are calling this condition ‘pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome’. The experts are still investigating a possible link. There are many unknowns about the virus and we can expect things to change as the weeks progress.
Naturally every parent is anxious. Australian government has already commissioned a team of experts to investigate if there is any link with the disease. We expect some announcements to be made by our Chief Medical Officer in the coming weeks.
Kawasaki Disease is a rare disease that affects children under the age of 5 and some older children. It is rare in teenagers or adults. The disease is most common in boys of North Asian ethnicity – hence its name. (The disease was originally discovered by Tomisaku Kawasaki).
The symptoms of the disease include:
high fever (over 39 degrees)
a rash on the torso, limbs, and around the nappy areas
red, swollen tongue
bloodshot eyes (with no discharge)
peeling skin around the nappy area (similar peeling in fingernails and toenails around 10-14 days)
The most important thing about this disease is that it can cause inflammation of the arteries that supply blood to the heart and vital organs resulting in a fatality.
Parents should be reassured that this condition is not subtle and does not come upon the child swiftly. So far, all cases reported have presented persistent symptoms like a fever, rash, stomach ache and so forth. Parents will have time to notice the symptoms. Self-diagnosing is not advisable. Neither is Doctor Google. If you suspect your child is unwell, ring your family doctor immediately.
We are living in a strange new normal. School nowadays looks nothing like what it used to be. Your kid can’t sit close to his/her friend. Physical contact is discouraged. They are told to constantly wash and disinfect their hands. The teacher takes their temperature every morning and doesn’t come near them for the rest of the day. There is no assembly. There are designated areas for school pick-ups. And if there is an outbreak, the school is back into lockdown.
These are difficult times for every parent and their child/children. All we can do is our best to support our kids. And hope that the brilliant minds working tirelessly to find a cure and a vaccine will be able to do so quickly so we can return to the old normal.