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Jul 30, 2020

Healthy Living – Back to School Health Risks

What can children expect come August tenth? In tonight’s Healthy Living, we find out what the new norm is like in the classrooms. 


Marleni Cuellar

“On August tenth, when schools reopen, students across the country can expect to be greeted at their schools by something like this. A mandatory hand washing station that all are schools are required to implement. This is one of the requirements that the Ministry of Education is asking all schools to put in place before the children return.”


In its School Readiness Monitoring Instrument, the Ministry of Education notes that each school should have a sufficient number of hand washing facilities which translates to one for every fifty students. But that’s just one of several changes teachers and administrators have had to implement as Belize prepares to reopen its schools in a pandemic.


Marleni Cuellar

“The other challenge is social distancing. A classroom like this on an average year would accommodate about thirty to forty students. But social distancing requires students to be three feet to six feet apart, which means this classroom will only hold about eighteen students. Here at Holy Redeemer School, they’re implementing a shift schedule, which means one group in the morning and one group in the afternoon.”


Other schools have opted for alternate day schedules, and some are mixing both online and in-person classes. At most schools, though, teachers and administrators are still finalising their classrooms for the new school norm. This includes adequate signage for hygiene and hand washing, demarcating six feet markers and retrofitting an isolation area – like this one – which will be furnished to hold children or students who feel sick at school.

Preparations aside, there is still a great deal of hesitance by parents about sending their children back to school. In an online poll conducted in July by a Belizean company, Digital Learning and Pedagogical Solutions, when the participants were asked, “Will you be sending your child for face to face instruction this year?”  Of the two thousands four hundred and sixty-two responses only eighteen point six percent said YES and the majority, fifty-four point seven percent said MAYBE.

Director of Health Services, Doctor Marvin Manzanero acknowledges the hesitation he’s seen from parents.


Marvin Manzanero

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services, MOH

“With what we do know about COVID is that it is not going to go away. We know the vaccine, even though there are advances in three of them, it doesn’t mean that you are going to have a vaccinated population that will be able to go back to doing routine activities one year from now. May very well be two years from now; even international air travel, they are saying four years from now it will go back to where it was. Based on that, you have to learn to find a mechanism for not only school opening but other issues how you go about your normal routine. There’s a lot of resistance, there’s a lot of hesitancy for all the reasons that we know. But some of that has to do with fear of the unknown. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”


While there still is a lot of unknowns about COVID and it impacts on children, according to Manzanero, it is believed that the severe risks for children are low.


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“Children are going to have, depending on the level of exposure, the same risks of becoming infected. It seems to be less than adults. For adults, twenty percent is still the hovering amount, although populations change. Mexico seems to have a higher number of patients hospitalised than other countries. For children, it would seem to be around five percent; much, much less than for adults.”


Even with the proximity to school reopening and the return of travel, Manzanero says he sees the children’s return to the classroom as an opportunity.


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“I know one of the key concerns people have that is that the virus is practically going to land on the first plane on August fifteenth. The last repatriation flight did not have any COVID-19 cases, but I don’t think that should be the mindset. As we go about, we have to think that COVID-19 is around us; it is not going to land necessarily in the first plane. So I think that is the education process that we need to start. We need to start telling people that anybody you meet on the street is a potential case. For adults, it’s hard to change our behavior. It may very well be the opportunity that children can be taught those mechanisms, those principles of adequate hand washing, adequate hand hygiene.”


But Doctor Manzanero, as we’ve heard from others like the Prime Minister and Minister of Education, warns that all these plans are tied to the fact that we currently have no community transmission.


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“We don’t have community transmission. So I think if you’re asking for the adequate time, it would be now. You can’t compare the dynamics of other epidemics and put it in our school or community setting. But again that changes. Once you start having community transmission the whole ball game changes.”


So come August tenth, the children will strap on their backpacks and face masks and return to their socially distanced classrooms.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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