We must do all to avoid another lockdown of schoolsMonday, January 03, 2022
School leaders are used to dealing with all kinds of infrastructural challenges after a long holiday break.
For them, Sunday's news story of termites wreaking havoc in school buildings — mostly shut over the last two years because of the pandemic — is just an extreme example of such challenges as they reopen physical school today.
As we all know, the imponderable position now is how to cope with the reopening of physical school as the number of COVID-19 cases soar.
We dare to suggest that those of us who pray, and those who merely hope, are all keeping fingers crossed that Mr Linvern Wright, head of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, is on the right track.
Mr Wright suggests the possibility that face-to-face classes may not be severely affected by the virus, given expert opinion that the increasingly dominant new variant, Omicron, is not as lethal as previous strains.
It's a hope, no matter how forlorn, that Jamaicans will embrace, given that COVID-19 numbers have shown a decisive upward leap recently after a comforting lull. We are, without doubt, at the start of a fourth wave, which Government epidemiologists and other health experts have been predicting.
Back in November, as he announced relaxation of COVID-19 containment measures and indicated a phased reopening of schools, Prime Minister Andrew Holness asserted that, while all precautions will be taken and protocols followed, “We are not going to close the schools again. It is what it is…”
That's fighting talk. But what's to happen if a worse-case scenario manifests itself with hospitals overwhelmed once again, as was the situation in mid-year with all beds taken, doctors and nurses exhausted, and life-saving material such as medical oxygen scarce?
Experts worry that such is the low anti-COVID-19 vaccination rate in Jamaica that the ugly scenario just painted could again become reality.
A bigger fear is that, even if, as being mooted, the new, increasingly dominant variant is less lethal than other strains, its extreme transmissibility combined with low immune levels in the population could lead to unmanageable hospitalisations.
A quick look at COVID-19 numbers released by the Ministry of Health and Wellness is instructive. On December 28 confirmed cases from tests done that day stood at 276 — a positivity rate of 17.9 per cent. Four days later, on New Year's Day, the number of confirmed cases was 528. The positivity rate had almost doubled to 34.9 per cent.
Most concerning, hospitalisations had increased from 87 on December 28 to 123 on New Year's Day. Obviously, if that rate of increase continues for any length of time or, worse, accelerates, our hospitals will be under stress.
Should that happen, the Government — no matter how reluctant — will have to reinstitute restrictions, possibly including closing physical school.
No one wants to go there. The damage already done over the last two years, because thousands of children have either missed school altogether or were only partially facilitated by online platforms, will be a burden for a long time to come.
Even while we hope that worse-case scenarios will not materialise over the next few weeks, this newspaper joins in pleading with Jamaicans to follow the recommendations of the authorities in the battle to overcome the most serious crisis of our time.