Minister of Education Diallo Rabain told MPs today that a more contagious strain of the coronavirus that has spread into some of the island’s schools was a direct result of the “poor behaviour of adults”.
“We all know that what happens in schools to some extent is a reflection of what’s happening in the community,” he said.
“If there is a COVID outbreak in the community, it’s just a matter of time before this seeps into the schools – which is what has happened.
“The current surge in infections we are experiencing is a direct result of persons flouting the rules that have been put in place.”
“As a parent with a child in the Bermuda Public School System, I am well aware of the anxiety our parents are facing. This new variant of COVID-19 has given us a different experience than what we had in December. This variant appears to be transmitted easier and affect our children more.
“The decision made to start the Easter Break early was a very difficult one, as I truly believe that our children deserve to be inside our school buildings. However, the evidence, the data and the psychological impact of where we as an island were all taken into account when this decision was made,” he added.
The rising number of cases was also the subject of a meeting held last week by the Education Emergency Measures Committee.
“Out of a total of 448 persons screened, there was only one potential positive case at Elliot Primary,” said the Minister.
“This preventative measure is being expanded as a screening tool and a regime of testing pro-actively in schools across the system, instead of waiting for notification of a potential exposure.
“This week, Victor Scott, Prospect and Gilbert Primary Schools have been scheduled as part of this expanded use of the screening via saliva testing,” he added.
“A schedule to have these screenings done on a routine basis will be developed over the Easter Break and introduced when in school learning commences on April 12.”
To date, saliva testing has been administered at:
- Elliot Primary – 99
- Paget Primary – 94
- Purvis Primary – 138 and
- West Pembroke – 117
Highlights of the Minister’s full statement:
As a parent with a child in the Bermuda Public School System, I am well aware of the anxiety our parents are facing. This new variant of COVID-19 has given us a different experience than what we had in December. This variant appears to be transmitted easier and affect our children more. As a parent, I fully understand the concern, as it was only last week I to had explain to my daughter how the nasal pharyngeal test works, as she and all of her school mates of Whitney Institute was tested recently. Thankfully she and all that were tested on that day were negative. The decision made to start the Easter Break early was a very difficult one, as I truly believe that our children deserve to be inside our school buildings. However, the evidence, the data and the psychological impact of where we as an island were all taken into account when this decision was made.
As of Wednesday this week, all students and staff in three public schools have been quarantined, these include; Northlands and Purvis Primary schools; and, Dellwood Middle School. Other schools that have classroom students or cohorts, and teachers and/or other school staff in quarantine include Devonshire Preschool West Pembroke, Paget and Elliot Primary Schools, and Whitney Middle School. These reflect for the most part classroom bubbles. As informed by the Ministry of Health, the concept of bubbles allows the technical officers in the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit better understand who is at risk, that is, the close versus casual contacts; and, better target actions towards those specific groups to minimize disruptions in schools.
When a COVID-19 exposure occurs in schools, the ‘bubble’ quarantines, instead of the entire school. This is based on a risk assessment undertaken by the Ministry of Health. Teachers quarantine with the students in their bubble and this lessens the impact of school staffing. As such, schools are able to remain open and continue with a hybrid-learning model.
Let me say that the Ministry is very much understanding of the heightened fear and concern that arises in the community when there is an increase in the number of COVID cases. The same is experienced in our schools when school staff are informed of a positive case in schools, and the ESU commences an assessment of their respective school. The automatic concern is: “Have I been affected?”.
This is a normal reaction for all of us. No one is exempt! As we continue to send communication out to parents and staff, the Ministries of Health and Education will work together to enhance the communication by providing additional information, so that persons understand or are clear if they have been a close or casual contact of the affected individuals. Additionally, Health is developing an information web page soon to be launched showing which schools have been affected, a list of Frequently Asked Questions, and, also a detailed explanation of the importance and effectiveness of the bubbles.
A saliva test is a screening tool used to detect a potential COVID-19 infection. The testing is an extra layer of testing to catch any potential infections within casual contacts, that is those students and school staff who are not deemed a close contact of the affected individual. The saliva testing is carried out as a proactive preventative measure for all students and staff remaining at a school, where a class or cohort of students and school staff have been placed on quarantine. Following the salvia test, any person identified as a potential positive must be tested using a nasal pharyngeal or throat swab to confirm the saliva test results.
The question of Easter Camps has been brought to my attention after to announcement to extend the Easter Break. Mr. Speaker, I wish to point out the large gather limit is currently 10 which would apply to camps or anything of that nature. While Schools are exempt from this 10-person limit, camps, dance classes, weekend events with children or students and the like are not exempt. The Department of Health has guidelines for the running of camps and I encourage the public to ensure that any camp that may be running during the Easter Break is doing so under these guidelines.
There have also been reports of persons who should be on quarantine out and about in the community. The current surge in infections we are experiencing is a direct result of persons flouting the rules that have been put in place. I honestly understand the “COVID Fatigue” that people feel due to this pandemic. I urge those persons to think of our island home and all of us here who want to get back to normalcy level just as they wish. However, unless we strictly follow the Ministry of Health guidelines and instructions for quarantining so that Bermuda remains safe, we further move from normalcy. As we have seen from what has transpired in the last few weeks, it takes one person’s actions to set us back.
As I stated earlier, COVID 19 is not going anywhere anytime soon. If the safety and health measures are followed consistently, the spread and transmission will be reduced. All school staff are considered essential workers but only 625 educators have been vaccinated since the end of February. So we are working collaboratively with the Ministry of Health and the Bermuda Union of Teachers to encourage more school staff to get vaccinated over the extended Easter Break; and, also take advantage of the Ministry of Health’s offer to schools to test school staff on a monthly basis using the Saliva Screening Testing. I also ask parents to be diligent in impressing on their children the importance of handwashing, mask wearing and maintaining the 6 feet physical distancing when in and out of school.
In closing I extend my thanks to the members of the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit, the Department of Communications, Commissioner of Education, her technical officers and our school principals of affected schools who have worked diligently during the recent weeks and who have sacrificed their personal and family time during the weekends and evenings communicating to parents, stakeholders and the general public about the COVID 19 impact on our schools.