Safe at school: On getting students back on campus

Students should be able to return to campus without fear if protocols are strict

One study of a million students and staff members who returned to school this year in the United States, where children must be 12 years old to get a vaccine, showed that in spite of the resultant exposure to 7,000 COVID-19-positive children and adults, only 363 other children and adults acquired the infection. This is attributed to a universal mask mandate. In India, with a school student population of over 250 million, resumption of in-person schooling is advocated by some public health professionals based on the understanding that younger children are less at risk, as they do not have well-developed ACE-2 receptors in the lungs that enable the virus to enter. This must, of course, be considered along with the impact of the Delta variant on children who do get infected, sometimes severely, even though their numbers may be small. In Ludhiana, 20 students in two schools tested positive eight days after reopening on August 2, underscoring the need for strict protocols, testing and quarantining. Maharashtra has followed the textbook in setting up committees headed by Collectors and civic officials to decide on reopening, with optional student attendance. Such a decentralised effort is welcome, as it enables closures only in areas with high incidence. It is important to note that after 18 months of the pandemic, there is consensus on ventilation and distancing norms as low-cost interventions with efficacy next only to vaccination. In the Indian context, this should favour outdoor classes under natural or built shade, wherever possible. It is disappointing that teachers and staff have not been universally vaccinated yet, a lacuna that must be urgently filled.

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