Unprepared school heads worried as infections spike

Anxiety has hit primary and secondary schools, as it emerged that the institutions are ill-prepared to deal with Covid-19 even as cases of infections surge.

Managers of public schools yesterday expressed fears that they do not have the necessary expertise and protective gear to manage cases within schools.

This comes as it emerged that top ministry officials are considering options that would inform recall of the rest of learners or if those already in school would be sent home.

International schools have already suspended phased physical re-opening for the rest of the classes that was scheduled for October 26, citing the spike in coronavirus infections.

The Kenya Association of International Schools (Kais) said the decision was made based on advice from the Ministry of Education, pending an audit of the first two weeks of partial re-opening.

Sources in government hinted to the Saturday Standard that even as the Ministry of Health put on a brave face and encouraged parents not to panic, the threat of mass infections in schools is real.

Mercy Mwangangi, the Health CAS, gave a glimpse of the caution, saying there are positive cases of teachers in schools and there could be infected learners too.

“Yes there are cases of teachers being positive and who knows, we may find that some of the students are positive,” Dr Mwangangi said.

She said a balance of virus effects of being in and out of school is critical.

She said a team of doctors has been sent to schools to determine the extent of infections and collect data, which shall be analysed by the end of the week.

But even as these are underway, heads are a worried lot as it emerged that most schools do not even have isolation rooms with basic equipment such as thermo guns, gloves and other protective gear.

School managers also said their staff have not been properly trained on how to manage the virus infections.

They said only a few institutions have nurses or medical practitioners within the premises even as the ministry insists each school is attached to a medical facility.

A look at the Ministry of Education checklist reveals that many schools have not met the basic requirements, raising questions on how the infections would be managed if cases increase.

According to the ministry’s guidelines, if a learner contracts the disease, they should be isolated in a designated room while they wait to be picked up by the Rapid Response Team.

While in the isolation room, the institutional nurse/matron is expected to administer first aid and keep a clear record of the nature of first aid and the time administered.

Proper cleaning

The isolation room is supposed to be cordoned off after the ill person leaves and opened later for proper cleaning and disinfecting.

“Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, focusing on areas where the person is known to have been and items they have touched, such as individual desk, bed, recently used toys, shared equipment,” reads the ministry’s document.

Staff are expected to wear gloves when cleaning and wash hands after removing the gloves.

The details are contained in the the ministry’s guidelines on health and safety protocols for reopening of basic education institutions amid Covid-19 pandemic.

“In case of suspected infection among teachers and non-teaching staff, the institution management will inform the County Rapid Response Team for further action and advise any staff member that is sick to stay home and follow the prescribed guidelines.”

Nicholas Gathemia, the chair of Kenya Primary School Heads Association (Kepsha) said most schools do not have the equipment to manage the disease.

He said most teachers who man the isolation centres have not been adequately trained, adding that there would be a crisis when cases are reported.

“They do not have any medical or nursing background yet they are supposed to man the isolation centres. This is not a joke,” Gathemia said.

Schools are expected to monitor new onset or worsening cough, shortness of breath, fever of 37.5 °C, chills, muscle ache, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, among learners.

Kahi Indimuli, the chair of Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (Kessha), said only Sh500 per student was allocated towards management of Covid-19, leaving institutions exposed.

“Most of the schools are working within thin budgets to keep children safe in schools,” Indimuli said.

Pay teachers

Each secondary school student was allocated Sh3,726 instead of Sh4,426.

It emerged that Sh700 had been deducted to pay teachers employed by the boards, eating into the monies that would have been used to prepare schools for re-opening.

“We only received Sh500 per child towards Covid-19 mitigation, which was little.

“This has now left a huge gap that schools are straining to plug and heads are wondering how they will provide teaching and learning,” Indimuli said.

After the deductions, Indimuli said schools were left with a paltry Sh3,226 per student to cater for the rest of vote heads, including electricity, water and pending bills.

“With this even investing in additional Covid-19 response material is a serious challenge,” he said.

Gathemia said the government did not allocate any money towards Covid-19 management for primary schools.

“They only disbursed the normal capitation with no mention of Covid-19.

“Most heads have had to be innovative by diverting some money towards management of the disease,” he said.

The ministry’s guidelines however require that schools have hygiene supplies, including masks, facial tissues and alcohol-based hand rub.

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