Safeguards vs. Covid-19 transmission in F2F pilot schools pushed

MANILA – A lawmaker on Tuesday said the Department of Education (DepEd) should set up safeguards against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) transmission in the 120 schools identified for the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes.

In a statement, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon said that in addition to the vaccination requirement for teachers and non-teaching staff, measures that will address transmission in schools should be put in place.

“I fully agree with the proposal to vaccinate teachers once the decision to commence face-to-face classes is implemented. We must ensure the safety of school children and exert efforts to minimize the risk of Covid-19 infections,” Biazon said.

He suggested that students and school personnel with comorbidities should be barred from participating in the pilot run.

“Studies have shown that people with comorbidities are more likely to develop a more severe course and progression of the disease and are therefore at higher risk than people with no comorbidity to Covid-19,” he added.

Biazon also proposed to augment schools with medical personnel who will look out for signs and symptoms of infection among students and school staff, and also attend to those who may need to be immediately isolated.

“This is crucial as early detection is key to containing the spread of the disease,” he said.

Biazon said isolation facilities should be prepared to house patients awaiting transfer out of the schools.

He further said rooms or buildings may need to be converted as quarantine facilities, while some schools may also need to be reconfigured or retrofitted to provide adequate ventilation and air circulation in the classrooms.

“We are one with DepEd in transitioning our students back to face-to-face classes, but we must do so without putting them at any more risk than is necessary, especially the minors who are not yet cleared for vaccination against Covid-19,” Biazon said.

The DepEd and the Department of Health (DOH) on Monday signed a joint memorandum circular outlining the guidelines for the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes for basic education in areas identified as “low risk” for the coronavirus.

During the virtual ceremonial signing, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the two departments worked together in crafting the operational guidelines of limited face-to-face classes to safely reopen schools amid the pandemic.

Briones said the guidelines implement the Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat, and Reintegrate framework highlighting the importance of the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, proper ventilation in classrooms, ensuring that classroom layouts enable physical distancing between persons, prioritization of students who will benefit most from limited face-to-face learning modality, management of foot traffic, and conduct of simulation activities before implementation of the pilot.

“DepEd also drafted a contingency plan with recommended actions for different scenarios. The scenarios range from where there is a suspected case presenting symptoms, to a scenario where there is a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in multiple barangays and this sets the policy on when schools should impose a lockdown,” she said.

DepEd Director for Planning Service Roger Masapol said the pilot implementation would be done among a maximum of 120 schools across the country, prioritizing Key Stage 1 learners (Kinder to Grade 3) after passing the School Readiness Assessment by DepEd and their local governments.

“Face-to-face classes, even in limited form, can mitigate the challenges of distance learning. It can address the needs of learners with no adult in the family qualified to perform the role of learning facilitator and ease the negative mental health and child development impact of the lack of face-to-face interaction and socialization among learners,” Masapol said.

World Health Organization Representative to the Philippines, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, lauded the Philippine government’s decision to approve the pilot run of limited in-person schooling in low-risk areas and assured it would continue to support the government in the pilot implementation of in-person classes.

“Deciding to open schools must be guided by (a) risk-based approach, taking into consideration the epidemiology of Covid-19 transmission at the local level and the capacity of educational systems to adapt to operate safely,” Abeyasinghe said. (PNA)

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