„The school year could also begin at the same time as the new pandemic wave defined by the Delta variant rises. This will require greater accountability from school leaders and vaccination of teachers as a primary emergency measure. Children deserve a friendly and quality school even during the pandemic. Losing knowledge can be a no-return process, especially for children in graduating classes. "
There is one month left before the start of the school year. Preparations for the school year are well under way. A holistic risk assessment and comprehensive mitigation measures are required to ensure that schools are effectively functional.
Among the biggest risks already visible today is the presence of the Delta strain in our country and its high potential for rapid spread. This risk is directly exacerbated by the low vaccination rate among teachers.
It is possible that the beginning of the new school year will coincide with the rise of the next pandemic wave in Moldova.
What risks does the Delta strain bring to children?
The Delta variant is 50% more contagious than the Alpha variant, which in turn is 50% more contagious than the original version of COVID-19. Its potential for spread is exponentially enhanced and can lead to a significant and rapid increase in the number of new cases, including among children. The first symptoms of Delta infection occur within 3-4 days of direct contact with an infected person. An infected person may have an asymptomatic form of the disease, i.e., not knowing that they are contagious. This may contribute to a wider spread.
Children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated because the vaccine for them has not yet been approved. So, this group represents a group at high risk of contracting Delta infection. This risk will be difficult to control.
The clinical manifestations of the disease in children are encouraging. Half of children infected with the Delta variant will have an asymptomatic form of the disease if they do not have other comorbidities. Another half will have mild symptoms of the disease, but not so severe that hospitalization is necessary. Children with a good level of health will more easily get through the disease if infected with the Delta variant. This information was collected in countries where the Delta strain is already the dominant strain, and there have been many cases among children.
Adults, or teachers who are already vaccinated and have a guaranteed degree of protection, can become infected with the Delta variant, but will not make a serious form of the disease. All vaccines approved at this time provide maximum protection against the severe form of the disease.
Adults or teachers who are not vaccinated are at increased risk of disease, including severe forms and hospitalizations. This risk is a concern.
How to minimize risks in these conditions?
If we look closely, we have two main risks:
- The risk of starting a new school year online from September 1 for all students.
- The risk of many infections from the beginning of the school year in case of the presence of students in the classroom.
The risk of starting a new school year in remote form will have a major impact on the quality of education and the educational process. This is the third school year affected by the pandemic. The consequences of these events are difficult to assess, and their long-term consequences can be quite dramatic. The new pandemic wave will have an average duration of 3-6 months, which is equivalent to one semester of school. This risk is difficult to mitigate with specific measures.
The risk of many diseases among students is a risk that can be reduced with the help of special measures.
Specific measures may include:
- Vaccination of teachers 100% by the beginning of the school year.
- Vaccination of children from 12 years 100% by the beginning of the school year.
- Provision of control measures for admission to school: thermometry, disinfectant, masks, by age groups.
- Creation of systems for monitoring, evidence, and notification of cases of infection.
- Availability of SOP for anti-epidemic measures, including disinfection of classrooms and enclosed spaces.
The greatest responsibility will also fall on the shoulders of school leaders, especially those who have in their schools’ children with fragile health, various neurological conditions or who are unable, for various reasons, to wear masks. These children will be very exposed at risk of infection. It is possible that a special teaching model will be required, conducted exclusively in an online format.
Hybrid Learning Model is foreseen
Children in good health will attend classes, respecting the biosecurity measures. Children with fragile health will learn online.
It is assumed that it will be a constant migration of children from classroom to online learning because some children will go through illness and will need isolation even in asymptomatic forms. This way, they will be able to study at home online for 14 days. Other children will remain in classrooms. This hybrid model will require a paradigm shift and a departure from the traditional classroom.
There will be no 5 classes of seventh graders, but there will be a group of 100 seventh-grade students. Of this possible group, there will be 70 students attending classes and 30 will study online. Of those who will study online, there may be 15 students with fragile health who will be constantly online, and 15 will be a migratory stream, which will depend on the number of infected.
In order to be able to conduct such a hybrid educational process, there is a prerequisite - teachers are vaccinated and 100% protected by the beginning of the school year.
It's important to understand that the virus will continue to create new variants because it wants to live with people. What we're writing here may be subject to changes in the coming months by various factors that are still invisible today. A new, more contagious, and aggressive strain may emerge. Multiple strains can circulate at the same time, including strains with a high antibody neutralization ability.
New factors may arise that no one knows about today. So, what are we going to do? - We will adjust the tactics in accordance with each new situation created. The pandemic crisis will continue for at least another 2-3 years. These reasons cannot stop children's schooling.
The school year could also begin at the same time as the new pandemic wave, defined by the Delta strain, rises. This requires more responsibility from school leaders and vaccination of teachers as a primary emergency measure. Children deserve a friendly and quality school during a pandemic. Loss of knowledge can be a no-return process, especially for children in graduating classes.