Concern about face-to-face classes in St Elizabeth schools
Munro College in Potsdam, St Elizabeth, has suspended face-to-face classes for non-boarding students.
Parish's active COVID-19 cases double in less than a week

BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — Principal of Munro College Mark Smith says his institution has resorted to online classes for day students for two weeks out of an abundance of caution following reports that two parents tested positive for the novel coronavirus recently.

He told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that face-to-face classes will continue for boarding students.

“We have taken the decision to return to online classes for the day students. We have borders here, so we are not closed,” he said.

When asked about comingling concerns between day students and boarders he explained the rationale for continuing face to face classes for the latter.

“Yes, you would have had some comingling of students, but now we have separated them. [We] have borders being facilitated face to face now. The day boys would go to online engagement for the next two weeks as we observe the case… It is coming from two parents [which] we got reports that they tested positive,” he said.

“Out of an abundance of caution… We were advised by the ministry [of health] that this might be the safest approach to take,” he added.

He said if boarders were to engage in online classes they would have to be sent home.

“... We don't want to have a case where we have a [student], we send him home, and then there is an issue. Once they are tested, they are sent home if positive; the others are okay. What, in essence, we are trying to do here is to create a bubble, because they are not interacting with anybody else, so we can still maintain classes,” he said.

“The face-to-face interaction is the most impactful, so even if we can allow some to get the face to face it does help. The real concern is that you have the day boys travelling on public transport and it is a great likelihood that one of them may carry [the virus] back to us here,” he added.

On Wednesday usually reliable sources confirmed that Sydney Pagon STEM Academy in north-eastern St Elizabeth, which had recently resumed face-to-face classes, closed its doors due to COVID-19 concerns. Some senior staff members were reportedly placed in quarantine.

Mayor of Black River and chairman of the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation Derrick Sangster, meanwhile, said that disregard of COVID-19 protocols may have contributed to a spike in cases in the parish.

“There is the challenge like everywhere else that many people will not conform to the protocols and therefore this could be one of the reasons we are seeing the spike,” he told the Observer by telephone on Thursday.

Health officials on Wednesday told the Observer that the active cases had more than doubled between late last week and early this week.Medical officer of health for St Elizabeth Dr Tonia Dawkins-Beharie said up to Monday there were 41 active cases in the parish. Last week Thursday she told the monthly meeting of the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation that there were 16 active cases.

“I didn't receive a report since Monday to say that there has been that increase, but if there has been that increase it would be pretty alarming. I did hear over the news that the former Elim Agricultural School (Sydney Pagon STEM Academy) had a case and therefore the school has been [closed],” he said.

“The municipal corporation continues to work with the health department to try and ensure that people maintain the protocols. Over the Christmas season we went to great lengths to ensure that the protocols were maintained,” Sangster said.

When asked if he would be in support of tighter restrictions in the parish he said, “If at the national level the Government sees the necessity for that then that is something we would work with.

“I can only try to encourage everyone to try and maintain the protocols, wear the masks, sanitise as much as possible, and to maintain the protocols in terms of travelling, the [physical] distancing as well when you are at a particular location,” he added.

Up to Wednesday five of the 22 beds on the isolation ward at the Black River hospital were occupied.

SMITH... Munro has done an overhaul of itssystems to resume face-to-face classes(Photo: Gregory Bennett)
BY KASEY WILLIAMS Observer staff reporter

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