Karachi, September 14, 2020 (PPI-OT): As the government announced the reopening of schools in September, parents’ anxiety about children getting infected with COVID-19 took a sharp hike. Parents, guardians and even teachers fear that it may be soon to reopen schools after they were shut in the early days of the pandemic. Still, others remain confused as to how their children and students need to be trained to follow the safety and precautionary guidelines regularly.
Experts from the Aga Khan University Hospital’s Children’s Hospital connected to the audience through a Facebook Live Session on 11 September 2020 to address these and other frequently asked questions. These concerns revolved around the training of young children from kindergarten and primary level to strictly wear their masks and maintain hand hygiene, manage classroom settings, how safe air-conditioned classes are, the role of flu and other routine vaccination in protecting children against COVID-19, disinfection guidelines for children’s belongings, and many more.
The panel of experts included:
Dr. Salman Kirmani, Associate Professor and Chair, Paediatrics and Child Health
Dr. Ali Saleem, Assistant Professor and Service Line Chief, Children’s Hospital
Dr. Arshalooz Rahman, Assistant Professor, Paediatrics and Child Health
Dr. Shelina Bhamani, Assistant Professor, Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Dr. Danish Aziz, Assistant Professor, Paediatrics and Child Health
The session opened with the biggest question: is this the right time to reopen educational institutions? The panellists unanimously expressed their expert opinion that safe reopening of schools with appropriate SOPs is the need of the hour. Since the number of new cases is declining countrywide, it is essential for the learning and development needs of children to get back to classroom setting.
With her expertise in Early Childhood Development, Dr. Bhamani guided parents on how to prepare their children, specifically of kindergarten and primary level, to go back to school. Such young kids learn from observing their parents; if their parents regularly and appropriately wear facemasks and follow hand hygiene, kids tend to learn through this practical example. Furthermore, she stressed upon friendly and innovative ways to motivate children to practice hand hygiene and preparing a handy ‘care pouch’ containing essentials, such as hand sanitizer and extra face masks.
For the school administrations and educationalists, Dr. Bhamani provided ways to incorporate WHO guidelines on physical distancing and disinfection. She stressed that it is extremely important for these groups to identify high-risk locations in schools and consequently devising plans to manage space and infrastructure.
Several concerns regarding the advisable type of mask for children were also addressed by Dr. Aziz. It is not necessary to make children wear N-95 mask; a simple surgical mask or a reusable cloth mask will do the job. Dr. Aziz reminded the audience that precautions are the same for kids and adults, and the most effective way is for parents to lead by example.
Dr. Saleem advised all parents and guardians to prepare children two weeks in advance for getting back into school routine, starting with a few minutes of practice of wearing masks, and increasing it every day so they get used to them.
It is not unusual for kids to develop a fever and /or viral infection. However, it is concerning during this unprecedented time for children to have COVID-like symptoms. Dr. Rahman guided all parents to monitor their children’s body temperature regularly. If it rises above 99 °F and persists along with other flu-like symptoms, it is likely that the child has developed some kind of viral infection. Under such circumstances, it is advised to not send children to school and immediately consult a physician. She also discussed the importance of timely and complete immunisation, especially in children with Asthma or prone to allergies.
Drs. Aziz and Saleem steered the discussion towards physical distancing in classrooms and during commute. They asked school administrations and parents to ensure that drivers of school vans and buses are maintaining the mandatory 6 feet distance in their vehicles and keeping windows open for ventilation.
In order to receive timely medical advice, all parents and teachers were advised to contact AKUH’s free-of-cost Child Connect service to have their concerns and queries answered. They may simply call AKUH helpline, (021) 111 911 911 and get connected to trained AKUH staff for timely and appropriate medical advice, free.
The panel concluded the discussion by highlighting a crucial fact about children’s early childhood development needs. Young ones between the age of 2 and 10 years learn from different environments and require structure and routine to grow. Hence, peer learning is an essential and effective channel for that development and therefore, parents should embrace reopening of schools with the right training and SOPs.
For more information, contact:
The Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH)
Stadium Road, P.O. Box 3500, Karachi – 74800, Pakistan
Fax: +92-21-34934294, +92-21-34932095