Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng has set stringent measures requiring primary education institutions to have at most 10 pupils per classroom and only 15 students for secondary schools, tertiary institutions and universities, before they can reopen.
In a June 17 letter to Education Minister Janet Museveni, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Health minister, outlined several standard operating procedures which all education institutions must follow to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease when they are finally allowed to reopen.
“The Ministry of Health has developed operating procedures for Covid-19 prevention in institutions of learning to operationalise. The standards detail minimum expectations required. The standards guide Education ministry for costing the inputs for reopening of schools in the context of the ongoing pandemic,” Dr Aceng wrote.
Dr Aceng emphasized a two metre distance between learners and teachers, handwashing and routine screening of learners and staff.
But she warned that when a case is detected, the school will be cordoned off until all contacts to the confirmed case are identified, before it is closed. The school will be allowed to reopen after 21 days.
“It is important to note that the risk of transmission in education institutions, some of which lie outside education sector, is high, the cost of mitigating the risks and level of effort required are significant in addition to complex surveillance processes in case of confirmation of a case in a school,” the minister added.
On May 30, the President directed partial reopening of institutions of learning starting with candidate classes as government began to ease the lockdown. Mr Museveni asked Education team to work with Health officials to find ways in which schools could partially be reopened.
Dr Aceng said she worked with the scientific advisory committee to identify potential risks associated with reopening of education institutions and developed standards expected to mitigate the risks of Covid-19 outbreak in education institutions.
During her update to the nation on Friday, Ms Museveni observed that she had received the guidelines to reopen schools from her counterpart, Dr Aceng but promised to inform the country after analysing the contents.
“The ministry has received sector-specific standards from the Ministry of Health to guide us in determining our sector’s readiness to re-open institutions of learning. My ministry shall review these SOPs and advise Cabinet in due course,” Ms Museveni said.
Dr Aceng observed that many institutions were crowded which limits social distancing, lack sanitation facilities, compromising control measures and reported cases of transmission within and from neighbouring countries, intensified by the porous borders with people who keep interacting, made it risky.
In addition, health experts fear that day schooling results in multiple interactions among learners from different households which can amplify transmission in a silent outbreak.
She said it will be hard to trace contacts in case a child picked the virus from using public transport or from a parent who also could have picked it from their workplace.
The team recommended that each institution should constitute a seven member committee, chaired by a teacher with two students who, on a daily basis, write a report about what transpired in the course of day in an effort to control Covid-19 and submit it to the district taskforce.
High risk points
The health team identified day scholars, suppliers, teachers, cooks, cleaners, security personnel, visitors, gates, compounds, classrooms, furniture tops, library, staffroom and offices, dining halls, dormitories, hostels, toilets and bathing areas, sports fields, sickbays, examination setting and staff quarters as high risk points of contacts.
The team demanded that classroom furniture be rearranged to ensure there is a two metre distance between the learners and teachers.
As such, they recommended that only 10 and 15 students be accommodated in a classroom for primary and secondary and tertiary institutions, respectively.
“Additional streams and new infrastructure requirements or modification may be required in order to accommodate the other students. Where changes in infrastructure is not feasible, Ministry of Education should consider a shift system for students – morning and evening shifts of Monday to Wednesday then Thursday to Saturday in order to achieve the required social distancing for prevention,” Ms Aceng said.
Dr Aceng: What institutions should have before reopening
-Committee with seven members who write a report to the district taskforce daily.
-Each class to have a student leader specifically for Covid-19
-District Education officer to lead the district taskforce.
-District Health Officer to train teachers, heath workers and non-teaching staff on the control measures
-Each school to recruit health assistant.The district taskforce to disinfect all institutions which were used as quarantine centres.
-Compulsory wearing of masks and hand washing.
-Full time trained personnel to do temperature screening.
-A well calibrated working temperature gun at each entrance, exit from dormitory.
-Isolation room to accommodate suspected cases.
-Learners with flu like symptoms sent home.
-A foot operated hand washing facility with water provided at all times
-At least five litre liquid soap available all time.
-Waste water disposed of in a constructed soak pit of 4 meters depth with hardcore stones.
-All learners keep social distance of two metres.
-Restrict community access
-Supervise learners washing hands.
-Supervise break periods and scatter releasing students for breaks, lunch and going home to limit interaction.
-Four square metres per student per class, from one metre square are required to achieve the two metre distance between learners.
-Only 10 and 15 students can be accommodated in a standard classroom for primary and secondary and tertiary institutions respectively.
-Additional streams and new infrastructure requirements or modification may be required to accommodate the other students.
-Additional teachers may be required to teach the extra classes or adjust timetables to accommodate the increase in the number of streams and repurposing teachers may be required.
-Curriculum to be reviewed to address the shortened period of face to face and provide materials that can be delivered online.
-Ensure good ventilation equivalent to 1 per cent of the total floor area
-Ensure presence of windows equivalent to 10 per cent of the total floor area.
-Natural light on both walls
-Keep windows open
-Disinfect at end of day
-Confirmation of one case in a learning institution leads to automatic closure.
-The institution will be cordoned off and secured until all the contacts to the confirmed case are identified and listed by health teams. The school will then be closed.
-The institution will then be disinfected and reopened after 21 days.
-Teachers and others who may not be residents in the school will be required to observe self-quarantine at home.
Additional reporting by Daily Monitor