The Omicron tsunami “casts a dark shadow” over schools in the US and Europe

Concerns of teachers and students

As the number of Covid-19 cases skyrocketed across the UK in late December 2021, Mr. Stuart Guest – a homeroom teacher at a primary school in Birmingham, England, scoured Amazon in search of machines. affordable air purifiers in the hope of stopping the Omicron variant from spreading among 460 students between the ages of 3 and 11, at this school. He eventually found a machine that costs around £200 (about $270) per class.

“This is probably the best budget-friendly air purifier we have. There are no guidelines from the Ministry of Education. I had to do it all by myself,” said Stuart Guest.

Millions of students in the UK have returned to school after the Christmas and New Year holidays, amid a record increase in the number of cases and hospital admissions due to Covid-19. For teachers and students, the current situation gave them a bad feeling. Unlike the time of January 2021, when the UK applied a widespread blockade due to the raging Alpha variant, at this time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson chose to issue very few restrictions and allow schools to open. The Omicron variant is spreading widely.

Many unions of teachers say the government is not doing enough to keep classrooms safe. They sent a letter asking the government for financial support for air cleaning units, on-site Covid-19 testing and additional teachers.

On the eve of the second semester, the British Ministry of Education has issued a regulation that tests twice a week and wears a mask compulsory for secondary school students, but this regulation does not apply to primary school students. The ministry said it will provide 7,000 air-cleaning devices to schools. To fill the staffing gap, the UK Department of Education is also asking for classes to be combined and calling for retired teachers to join the teaching profession. “All these measures are not enough,” said Stuart Guest.

There is no guarantee of safety

The Omicron variant has pushed the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK, US and many European countries to record levels, and hindered the plan to reopen schools. Many schools have been criticized for doing too little to protect students. In some places, teachers have to open all the windows in cold weather and regularly check the level of CO2 pollution during lectures.

In the US, the rate of children hospitalized due to Covid-19 is unprecedented. The Biden administration says schools are “more equipped” to stay afloat amid the outbreak of the variant Omicron across the country. Some officials, however, support the postponement of the new semester, as many teacher unions have ordered some public schools to close, citing unsafe classroom conditions.

Omicron is thought to cause milder symptoms than earlier variants but some early research suggests it causes more upper respiratory problems and this is more dangerous for young children because it can lead to to bronchiolitis or pneumonia.

Dr Peter Hotez, director of the Vaccine Development Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, said: “Despite a lot of comments that this variant is not as dangerous as others, when combined with all the factors. We are facing a very serious situation, especially with children.”

Currently, about 17% of children in the United States between the ages of 5 and 11 are fully immunized, and the majority of children hospitalized are unvaccinated, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. Rochelle Walensky said.

Infection in schools is higher than in the community

Two years after the outbreak of the disease, health professionals are still trying to find ways to make schools safer. In an article published in the British Medical Journal, Christina Pagel, director of the Clinical Operations Research Unit at University College London, says there are many success stories from countries like Norway, Japan.

These countries have helped schools stay afloat by taking a series of precautionary measures, such as increasing the use of outdoor space, spacing classrooms out, avoiding large gatherings. students and asked to wash their hands frequently.

She noted that many areas in the US, along with some European countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Germany, have done a good job of requiring elementary, middle and high school students to wear masks. Page. A study in Germany shows that requiring children and adults to wear masks in schools can significantly reduce the spread and outbreak of Covid-19, because outbreaks tend to become more severe. more important when the source of infection is an adult.

Still, there are concerns that Omicron will spread in classrooms. A study in French schools in December 2021 showed that the rate of viral infection in schools is still much higher than in the community, leading to the risk that members of the student’s family may also be infected. disease transmission.

As students return to school amid a powerful wave of Omicrons, many scientists and health professionals have questioned: If it’s important for children to keep schools open, why should they? Are we not taking adequate measures to protect children?

“It is horrifying to look at the numbers of children getting sick and being hospitalized every week. And the reality is that children have to go to school in the midst of the Omicron wave raging without any effective measures to reduce the infection,” said Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of the UK commented.

“I’m not sure many parents realize the risks their children are facing every day. There are countries that have done so much better than us,” noted Deepti Gurdasani, citing successes in Asia and Western Europe.

Strategies by some Southeast and East Asian countries such as widespread mask wearing, improved ventilation, comprehensive contact tracing, and support for isolation have helped limit disruptions in education. Moreover, they are also very flexible to change preventive measures depending on the situation, and quickly adapt to teaching and learning in both online and face-to-face formats, Ms. Deepti Gurdasani said.

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