After a drastic increase in COVID-19 infections among young people aged 10-19 over recent weeks, the Health Board (Terviseamet) is calling for a critical assessment into youth center and hobby group activity.
Infections among people aged 10-19 in the period of November 2-8 increased by 300 percent compared to the week prior. The period of November 9-15 saw another 100 percent increase. 82 percent of Tallinn's general schools are now related to a coronavirus infection in some capacity, the Health Board announced on Thursday evening.
"This is a worrying trend, we see that hobby groups congregating students from different schools have drastically encouraged the spread of the virus," deputy director of the Health Board Mari-Anne Härma said.
She added that hobby groups such as sports trainings, dance classes, music classes, acting classes, arts and crafts classes and choir and orchestra rehearsals all fall under hobby groups which have helped the virus spread over recent weeks.
Young people often carry the virus without symptoms
Härma said children often carry the virus asymptotically or with light symptoms and often transmit the virus to others. "It is often left unnoticed that a child may have symptoms and that creates an increased risk of spread," she added.
While the greatest danger to be infected with the novel coronavirus through hobby groups remains in Tallinn and in other regions in Harju and Ida-Viru counties, infection rates are continually rising across Estonia. "It is important to keep hobbies and education as a whole operating, there have to be certain amendments in hobby groups," Härma said.
The Health Board is pointing out high risk activites in particular, where the risk of spread is great and no alleviation measures can be implemented. These activites are ones where forced airflow is generated, able to spread higher amounts of pathogens, often times accompanied by tight contact with one another.
Härma said: "These activites are choir rehearsals, orchestra rehearsals and sports, where teammates are communicating with each other and are in contact."
The Health Board's recommendations are oriented toward stopping the virus from spreading among young people in the time before Christmas. Christmas and the school break during the holidays is longer, bringing along increased movement and socialization across Estonia, also increasing the risk of asymptomatic spread. The Health Board fears the virus can be unnoticeably transmitted to older people, churches and culture events during the holidays.
On Thursday, the Health Board sent their recommendations to the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Education and Research, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Rescue Board, Tallinn City Government and Tallinn's Sports and Youth Department.
People, including children, who have given a positive coronavirus test, are still directed to self-isolation for a period assigned to them by their general physician.
Health Board recommendations for hobby education organizers and parents:
- Take as many classes and groups to distance learning (remote instruction).
- If contact learning is unavoidable, prefer larger halls and meeting rooms where sufficient distancing is possible.
- Avoid activites in groups. If this is impossible, decrease the interval of meetings (for example, once a week instead of three) and the size of the meetings (a maximum of 10 people in a group).
- Prefer outdoors classes to indoors classes and individual lessons to group lessons.
- Avoid contacts between groups of students from different schools and hobby groups.
- It is reasonable to take 15 minute breaks between groups, during which windows can be opened and rooms can be aired out.
- During breaks, clean contact surfaces.
- Cancel or suspend hobby events (concerts, public events, friendly matches, etc.)
- Follow distancins at all times, including in wardrobes and waiting rooms.
- Masks should be worn, if and when possible. We recommend children aged 12 and up wear masks. Masks could certainly be worn in wardrobes, hallways and waiting rooms. Masks should also be worn when arriving to trainings and leaving (including in dressing rooms).
- Hand hygiene is important, as is washing your hands. Instructors should also have sanitizing options available in classrooms.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste