Why reopening schools during a pandemic is illogical

Written by Tanya Kaushal, 20.

In March, hearing the word “quarantine” rang a bell for me. I could not pinpoint the exact year but roughly around 2014, in a school of about 400 students, over 50% were ill. At the time, I was a fresh GCSE student walking around with a mask in a school that looked eerily like this year’s lockdowns. We weren’t under lockdown but our school hospital (or what we called ‘Hoz’) was essentially quarantined as it was overcrowded. It got to a point that beds were made in the locker rooms. This was the annual outbreak and every year it was different and unpredictable. Some years it came during the winter and sometimes during the summer. However, there were only two main categories- flu and gastroenteritis. Imagine half of the school throwing up or getting the shits. It haunts me to this day.

Even with all the resources available it is simply impossible to have low infection rates

There was no escaping this annual epidemic, whether staff or student. You were lucky if you got the mild infection and an absolute warrior if you were healthy the entire year. Hoz was considered the go-to excuse to get out of class but during this yearly epidemic, we had to bid a temporary goodbye or farewell to some of our weak brethren.

An international boarding school sounds like a breeding ground of diseases, but this is at a micro scale. What happened every year in my school is happening all over the world with the coronavirus- hospitals overflowing and people quarantined.

So, if a small boarding school found it difficult to manage their yearly outbreaks, how can we expect thousands of schools to navigate through a pandemic? Even with all the resources available it is simply impossible to have low infection rates, unless it is a boarding school where students can be quarantined. Not every school is a boarding school and not every school is a private body that can provide online classes.

Even with the regular flu outbreak in my school, I could hardly meet my friends who were ill and just walking past the Hoz building, your face was greeted with the thick, heavy and warm air of sickness. COVID-19 is far from being the regular flu outbreak in my school. In a large public school, where there are not tens but hundreds and thousands of students, it not only seems dangerous but outright disgusting to have kids breathing this sickening air. As the World Health Organisation (WHO) and numerous scientists have said, “young people are not invincible” and there’s also the risk of exposing their families to it.

Many US schools have gotten the all clear to reopen this fall and currently, the US is leading the world in the number of active coronavirus cases. Most schools are being reopened for in-person classes in COVID-19 hotspot states like Georgia and Florida. It is easier to discipline older students to wear a mask or keep a distance by teaching them the science, but it is extremely difficult to keep elementary school students away from each other let alone in a mask all day. Economically, it is an advisable option to send younger students to schools first, as their parents will be able to return to work. Privileged and affluent families can afford to hire private tutors or babysitters. Though the risk of exposure to the virus is lower it is still a risk nevertheless for both tutor and student. Most people cannot afford such luxuries and have no choice but to send their children back to school. So, what is the solution?

These yearly epidemics had certainly prepared my school when coronavirus arrived

An initial suggestion has been to delay the reopening of schools and in the meantime, put in place an intense crackdown on the pandemic. We all know that enforcing masks has been turned into a political outcry for most right-wing supporters, so America is in a fix. However, the debate around wearing masks is not a debate. The US government can easily enforce strict measures to make masks essential in public spaces. Overtime, infection rates will reduce, and it will be safer for students to go back to school. However, the rush to supposedly save the economy by reopening schools and the lack of empathy from the Trump administration has made America the Florida of the world.

The annual epidemics in my boarding school were usually short-lived. This was primarily because we were able to contain them with the tireless efforts of the medical staff and administration. Those in quarantine returned to the dorms and classes within ten days. Preventions were also implemented. At the start of every term, each boarder was given deworming medication, vitamin tablets with every breakfast and the embarrassing head lice checks- one dorm witnessed a lice outbreak because a student loved hugging people too much. These yearly epidemics had certainly prepared my school when coronavirus arrived because as an alumni, I got an update from my school in early March that the school was closing, everyone was returning home and there was an early graduation as well.

We have all learned lessons from this pandemic. Though we weren’t ready for this pandemic, in this decade with the amount of technology we have, we could not have been more prepared. It is a new virus, but we know what precautions can be taken to prevent its spread until a vaccine arrives. So, reopening schools for in-person classes is a far-fetched idea at the moment.

This contribution was written by Tanya Kaushal, 20. Visit her profile here to find out more about the voice behind the words.