The contact tracing component of Covid-19 management in Antigua and Barbuda will remain unchanged, particularly in schools, despite the gradual increase in vaccinations.
Before the Pfizer vaccine was acquired and used to inoculate hundreds of schoolchildren, the protocols that applied in schools were pretty straightforward – if someone was found to be positive, they were immediately isolated and contact tracing done to determine that person’s recent close contacts.
Those close contacts were also made to quarantine for a mandatory period, to ensure they could not pose a risk to others if they had, in fact, also contracted the virus.
With vaccinations now a requirement for the return of face-to-face learning in all schools, there was a question whether the greater protection they provide could mean a relaxing of the contact tracing protocols, to limit the disruptions that have been rather frequent within the education sector for several months.
However, according to Chief Medical Officer, Dr Rhonda Sealy-Thomas, those protocols will remain in place despite the prevalence of vaccines.
“Yes, vaccinations do help in controlling Covid-19, but other public health measures do not change very much with the vaccinations.
“So, yes, in the school situation or in any situation where you have persons vaccinated, once someone is identified as a contact, contact tracing will begin and persons will go into quarantine,” she said.
Speaking alongside the CMO, Pathologist Dr Lester Simon, noted the importance of a proper system to isolate persons showing even remote symptoms of Covid-19 in schools.
Considering the importance of safety in the schools during this time, he suggested that some resources – particularly via discontinued services – be reallocated in this regard.
“As we’re not going to be using personnel with all that testing at the end of quarantine, we can redeploy our forces to use them where they are best needed,” Dr Simon said.
The CMO explained that the protocols for schools were decided and enforced alongside the Education Ministry since the reopening of schools last year.
She said further that they have proved to be very effective, especially with some logistical support from the schools.
“If it is a teacher, cleaner or student who was showing symptoms on the compound, we actually visited the schools and made them identify areas where that person could be isolated and contact tracing would have begun immediately.
“In the classrooms, the children would have been physically distant from each other and the teachers kept good logs to know on a particular day who was at school. Some schools actually had cameras, so we could go back and look at the footage – especially for the preschools – to see which child had been in contact with [others].
“[That] was really amazing for us and assisted us in doing the contact tracing and follow-up for those children who might have been in contact with the [infected person].”
Secondary schools have been allowed to reopen since this week, once all students and staff are vaccinated against Covid-19.
Amid the current spike in cases, however, primary schools have remained closed for the time being, with the level of infections in the near future to be considered before they are given the green light.