By Elesha George
Guidelines have been issued to school principals instructing them how to deal with the coronavirus – or Covid-19 – should it reach Antigua and Barbuda.
The Ministry of Education has developed a “protocol for action” to prepare institutions for suspected Covid-19 cases and to provide a routine for protecting students, teachers and other staff members.
Last Thursday, the Ministry said it met with principals and teachers to brief them on the requirements.
The guidelines speak to general hygiene like avoiding close contact with people who show symptoms of the common cold or flu, avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth, cleaning frequently touched surfaces and using hand sanitisers if soap and water is not available.
Principals are also expected to identify areas that can be used to initially quarantine students who exhibit signs of illness while at school.
In addition, the guidelines state that health officials should be alerted to any suspected Covid-19 cases. Nurses, where available, will be placed on the frontline to help identify these cases.
The guidelines also outline protocols for cleaners and cafeteria vendors. Cleaners are asked to exercise particular caution when carrying out their duties while vendors are urged to follow food safety protocols and to discourage students from sharing eating utensils.
Director of Education, Clare Browne, told Observer that personnel within all local educational institutions should follow these rules.
In the meantime, the Board of Education will provide things like soap dispensers for classrooms and washrooms. However, the protocols developed by individual schools can only be enforced as far as schools are capable, the director warned.
Schools have been asking parents to keep their children home if they are coughing and sneezing excessively and to give each child personal hand sanitisers. In addition, the guidelines encourage hygiene kits.
“The virus can easily come to Antigua without us even being aware because there might be people who get the virus and have little or no symptoms and so we won’t know,” warned Education Officer, Dr James Knight.
“It’s another flu but it’s one that we’ve never had in the community and that’s the problem.”
Dr Knight studies chronic illness in schoolchildren and was one of the chief persons who helped to draft the school guidelines.
He said some of the most common seasonal flus that people contract each year are from the coronavirus family.
“Every year you get a new strain and so the vaccine is usually to treat the strain for the previous years, so you don’t have for the current year but because people usually get a combination of strains that makes them very sick.”
The doctor is encouraging frequent hand washing with soap and water and, in the absence of that key combination, to use hand sanitisers.
“We are insisting on the hygiene. We are also insisting on things like increasing the facilities for hand washing in the schools and we’re advocating the strategic placing of hand sanitisers in some common locations within the school where students gather,” he said.
In addition, Dr Knight said people should prepare their bodies to combat the coronavirus by eating properly, getting adequate sleep, avoiding unnecessary stress and by consuming less sugary foods. That, he said, will help keep the body’s resistance high.
“When you hear these viruses are out, normally, just like the chikungunya and the zika, the virus is there and plenty people have it. Most of us may have it but many won’t know because the immune system is dealing with it,” he said.
Antigua and Barbuda remains at the lowest level of alert since there are no cases on the island but the doctor encourages basic hygiene precautions.
Dr Knight said the cleaning schedule would usually include sanitising the bathrooms ahead of the school day by sterilising knobs and faucets, plus more regular cleaning at break and lunch times and at the end of the day.
However, in the case of heightened alert, he warned that these methods should be carried out every two to three hours.