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Schools and Covid-19: The Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA) Guidelines

The plans and the decisions of government, learners, school staff and caregivers, around #ReopeningSchools, need to be informed by the best available medical evidence.

The Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA) has published a guiding document with recommendations on how to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in schools. The CMSA is an examination body for postgraduate medical education and training in South Africa, which provides guidance on health care issues.

The CMSA guiding document provides information on:

  • The risk of children getting ill (available medical evidence points to children and adolescents are less likely than adults to become severely ill from COVID-19)
  • Steps learners and staff should take each day, before going to school, going to and from school and on the school premises
  • Hygiene and physical distancing measures 
  • Responsibilities of caregivers, learners and staff in complying with the regulations. 
  • A checklist for schools to follow to sensitively respond to school community members who may have COVID-19 symptoms

What to do before school:

  • Both learners and staff should conduct individual physical ‘check-ins’  to assess whether they have any symptoms of COVID-19.
  • No one should go to school if they have symptoms of illness.
  • In the case of a learner, caregiver or staff member being diagnosed with COVID-19, the school must be alerted, and the person must self-isolate
  • If a learner, caregiver or staff member has been in contact with anyone with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, the school must be alerted and the person must self-quarantine.

What to do when going to and from school:

  • Caregivers must ensure learners wear clean cloth masks.
  • Caregivers must select appropriate transport choices for learners aligned with regulations. 
  • Schools must have a reserve stock of clean cloth masks for learners arriving without masks, damaged or inappropriate masks.
  • Schools must provide clear dividing lines for queues which allow two metres of space between individuals waiting for a bus or a taxi.

What to do in school:

  • Schools should promote appropriate hygiene measures (sanitising, cough etiquette, proper handwashing, the proper use of face masks).
  • Schools should provide handwashing or hand sanitation points at drop-off and collection sites, at easily accessible sites throughout school and at entrances to classrooms or other gathering venues.
  • Cleaning staff should be trained and must regularly clean frequently used surfaces. The school must make sure it provides enough cleaning supplies.
  • To promote physical distancing schools should have less learners in a classroom and  cancel or postpone large gatherings, including all sporting or cultural events.
  • Teachers over the age of 60 and with comorbidities should work from home. If choosing to work at school, there should be no contact with children and minimal contact with other staff during the workday.
  • Schools should not incentivise attendance or punish absenteeism.

Definitions of some medical terms 

  • Self-isolation: The purpose is to keep a sick person away from healthy people so they don’t infect them. A person must  stay at home and keep at least one metre distance from other people, even close family members if they are experiencing fever, cough or other mild COVID-19 symptoms or have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The symptoms should be monitored and a healthcare provider should be contacted immediately if the person develops a difficulty of breathing.
  • Quarantine: To separate yourself from others when you have been exposed to someone or people who may have COVID-19.  The purpose is to make sure you have not been infected and do not pass it on to others without knowing. Infections can happen before there are signs of any symptoms, so this is a way to prevent some infections from happening. 
  • Comorbidity: Means that someone has one or more underlying conditions/illnesses at the same time, for example hypertension, diabetes or asthma and COVID-19

Leanne Jansen-ThomasSchools and Covid-19: The Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA) Guidelines