WESTERN Cape MEC for Education Debbie Schafer has confirmed that 98 teachers have tested positive for the coronavirus, leading to early closure of 15 schools in the province, officially declared South Africa’s epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The names of the schools and teachers will not be publicised because once word gets out, principals who are already busy, are swamped with questions and visits”, said Schafer.
Schafer said her department stood by its decision to reopen schools, regardless of the number of positive cases detected at different schools in the province in recent days.
She said a lot of work went into making sure schools were ready to reopen under safe conditions.
“When a case of COVID-19 is detected at a school, it will be closed, cleaned and only reopened when they receive a certificate to do so,” said Schafer.
The coronavirus has taken its toll on schools in the Western Cape, having infected more than 1,000 children and almost 100 teachers in the province, authorities said on Thursday.
Almost 1,800 children and 98 teachers have been infected in the Western Cape, leading to the closure of at least 20 schools this week, the provincial government said.
Of the cases involving children, 1,537 cases were reported before the schools were reopened, according to the provincial department of education.
South Africa reopened schools for grade 7 and grade 12 on June 8 following a suspension of almost three months.
“We have followed top medical advice in supporting the decision to reopen schools safely in this province,” Western Cape Governor Allan Winde said at a digital press conference.
“I fully understand that parents are worried about the COVID-19 pandemic and how the reopening of schools might impact their child’s well-being,” Winde said.
According to data provided by the Western Cape Department of Health, as of June 5, there had been a total of 1,787 cases of COVID-19 in people under the age of 20, representing roughly six percent of all cases at the time.
Of these 1,787 infections, five children have died, accounting for 0.3 percent of all confirmed cases of those infected under the age of 20.
The data, however, does show that children are at a significantly lower risk than adults, Winde said, adding that in fact, those at highest risk are residents over the age off 55 and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
“The reality is that the virus is going to be around with us for some time, possibly another year at least,” said Winde.
“We must adjust to the ‘new normal’ of COVID-19, by making sure that we reopen our schools in a way that reduces the risk and ensures the safety of our learners and staff,” said Winde.
It is for this reason that the Western Cape government has spent 280 million rand (about 16.8 million U.S. dollars) on masks and cleaning materials thus far, Winde said.
The South African Paediatric Association has supported the phased reopening of schools based on medical evidence that children are less likely to get sick and if infected, have milder disease, are unlikely to die from the virus, and are probably less infectious than adults.
The Western Cape has remained the epicenter of the virus in the country, recording 36,279 confirmed cases and 891 deaths as of Wednesday, in comparison with 55,421 cases and 1,210 deaths nationally.
(Additional reporting by news agencies)