Grade 12 and grade 7 pupils are expected to return to school on June 1. Photo: Matthew Jordaan / ANA
Grade 12 and grade 7 pupils are expected to return to school on June 1. Photo: Matthew Jordaan / ANA

Reopening of schools: Parents of children with underlying conditions should consult their doctor

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published May 29, 2020

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South Africa is preparing for alert level three lockdown restriction. This lockdown alert level allows more business to open and grade 7 and grade 12 pupils to return to school.

However, many parents are anxious about their children going back to school. The petition doing the rounds on social media to close schools has been a loud cry from parents who are anxious about their children's health.

Reports and ongoing research have shown children can get infected by Covid-19 but may be affected differently by the virus. 

Professor Helena Rabie from Tygerberg Hospital says researchers are not entirely sure why kids respond to the virus differently. “Some researchers are of the opinion that the receptors (areas on the cells of the lung) where the virus will attach are different in configuration and number and others speculate that the immune systems of children manage the virus better than that of adults.”

And, she adds that Covid-19 is not the only virus that is managed differently by children, other examples are the chickenpox virus and the hepatitis A virus, where childhood illness is known to be less severe in the majority of cases.

When looking at other countries, The Conversation has noted that kids get infected with coronavirus at much lower rates than adults. “This is the case in Australia and throughout the world. There are no clear explanations for this yet, but it is a consistent finding across the pandemic. Although SARS-CoV-2 can cause Covid-19 in school-aged children, it rarely does and children with the disease have mild symptoms.

“Fewer than 150 children below 15 years have been infected with SARS-COV-2 in Australia since the pandemic began. This is compared to the 6 695 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Australia on April 25, 2020.”

Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, Zahid Badroodien says parents can continue to explain what the virus is, the dangers and challenges without frightening and scaring them.

He say there are a range of tools like short videos, frequently asked questions available online and via the social media channels of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the National and Provincial government and the City of Cape Town, or the World Health Organisation that provide information on what exactly the virus is and answers a range of questions that the public may have.

He suggests that parents familiarise themselves with these facts and then have a conversation with their children.

Badroondein says you can start with explaining the spread of the virus, explain that it spreads via the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes; close contact such as touching or shaking hands and touching objects or surfaces with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

He then explain who may be at risk: While we are still learning about how Covid-19 affects people, older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart or lung disease, cancer or diabetes) appear to develop serious illness more often than others.

The best prevention method is to ensure that kids know how to protect themselves with these hygiene practices: Wash your hands often, with soap, for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your eyes, mouth and face with unwashed hands, avoid close contact with infected persons. 

Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue, and once used, throw it away. If a tissue is not available , cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve (elbow area). If you are mildly sick, stay home, drink lots of fluids, and rest

While we may not be sure if kids will follow regular hygiene practices when you're not with them. Zahid says the Health Promotion awareness and education initiatives that the City’s Environmental Health Practitioners engage in, are directed at children, but also teachers and caregivers. 

Zahid says parents should ensure that they familiarise themselves with the facts surrounding Covid- 19. “Unfortunately, there has been a proliferation of fake news and scaremongering via social media. If you come across any information that creates a sense of panic or fear, double-check the aforementioned channels for verification first.”

When it comes to children with underlying conditions ahead of the opening of schools, Rabie says children with underlying conditions should be fully vaccinated as per their condition and parents should discuss the return to school with their doctor as risks may vary. 

Currently it seems that children with asthma, a common chronic condition, is not a higher risk.

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