Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Ministry of Health has started investigations of the source of COVID-19 infections in schools following a number of cases reported in Masaka and Gulu districts.
The development comes after 45 students from several educational institutions reportedly tested positive for the virus in Masaka district, sending fear among parents and the general public.
Dr. Charles Olaro, the director of curative services at the health ministry says the occurrence of the cases is something that needs to be investigated because it shows something is not right. He says they have dispatched district surveillance teams to carry out investigations aimed at discovering the sources of infection of the disease
“If schools are following the SOPs as we issued them, we do not expect cases of COVID-19 to be reported. The occurrence of the cases shows that something is not right. Either the schools are not following SOPs or they are allowing visitors to enter the school which endangers the students,” says Dr. Olaro.
According to the Standard Operating Procedures that all schools are expected to follow to stop the spread of the disease during the resumption of learning in October, schools are supposed to provide hand washing facilities, learners are also expected to keep their masks on and maintain a physical distance of at least two meters at all times (be it in classes or even in their dormitories).
In addition to this, visitors are not supposed to be allowed into schools. All schools are supposed to either operate as a day school or a boarding school. In the case of boarding schools, the schools are supposed to be fenced well and both teachers and learners are not supposed to leave the school premises to interact with community members that might be infected.
However, it should be noted that although access to the schools was limited by SOPs this is difficult to enforce because different people including parents, inspectors and service providers are constantly visiting schools.
While the health ministry says it plans to carry out investigations, officials from the ministry of education told Uganda Radio Network – URN that they are unaware of any learners being infected with COVID-19 from a school setting.
Ismael Mulindwa, the director of basic education and also the head of the education ministry COVID-19 task force when contacted for comment denied the reports of infected learners. He says they have teams of inspectors across the country but they are yet to receive any report and only seeing ‘sweeping statements’ in the media.
Mulindwa, however, says that even in the event that there are reported cases, the government issued out guidelines on how this can be handled without causing panic among the public. “We have not said that COVID-19 will not reach in our schools. That would be a lie, the pandemic is in the communities and the schools are not in a vacuum. If there is a suspected case, there are protocols to follow.”
According to the guidelines, each school must have a COVD-19 task force that file timely situation reports to their district counterparts. In case any learner or another person within the school is suspected to have contracted COVID-19 or present symptoms of the disease, is first isolated in a special room set up at the school, and later health workers are called. Before the reopening, every school was attached to a health facility.
At the health facility level, the suspect is tested and if he or she turns out to be positive is retained or referred for treatment. However, Dr. Olaro explains that the rest of the learners from the same school are not quarantined but they are advised to continue observing standard operating procedures.
Effects to reopening for other classes
From day one government noted that the phased reopening which started with 1.2 million finalists could be reviewed based on inspection reports. A month after the resumption of classroom teaching, Mulindwa says they are soon sitting to review the situation before a decision is taken.
“Our teams led by the directorate of education standards, district inspectors of school, and COVID-19 task forces at the local government are compiling reports which will soon be reviewed. But so far, the situation is not so bad,” says Mulindwa.
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