Health Board deputy: Virus will reach schools via unvaccinated teachers

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Mari-Anne Härma. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

After the school holiday ends, the coronavirus is likely to mainly reach schools through those teachers who haven't been vaccinated, the Health Board's (Terviseamet) deputy chief, Mari-Anne Härma, told ETV discussion show "Suud puhtaks" Tuesday evening.

As early as the beginning of January, Härma noted how in autumn, after the school summer holiday, teachers had vectored the virus into schools and then to schoolchildren, who in turn brought them home. The current situation isn't very different, she said, barring the fact that some teachers have been vaccinated against the virus and some have already had and recovered from it.

"We take that into consideration, that the teachers are in the frontline. For the first couple of weeks, we can see how the virus will spread to the school through teachers that haven't been vaccinated. Not all teachers have had their second dose; that will take a couple of weeks. We can still see people getting infected after the first dose," Härma said. 

She added that elementary students are being sent back to school first, in order to start relaxing restrictions from the most important points. In her opinion, opening the schools partly is preferred as, if the infection rate increases again, it is possible to send the children on summer vacation once it arrives, or even earlier.

"Most likely the most important factor is that children are not going to school for a long time. Even if we see an increase in the infection two-three weeks after opening the schools, we should be able to stabilize the situation in a couple of weeks," Härma said.

The Estonian Employers' Confederation's chief executive, Arto Aas, said that from the perspective of businesses, it was a good idea to open up the elementary schools. He explained that several production and service sector employees have small children at home, and because they can't do their jobs there, then it is a positive thing that they can take their children to schools and nurseries.

It was also discussed why schools aren't opened by region, based on varying infection rates.

The head of the government's scientific council, Irja Lutsar, said that the body has recommended doing so to the government. Lutsar added that one argument against the regional opening basis is educational inequality. 

"I personally don't agree that we have to decide according to the worse region, but I understand that nobody wants to be caught in educational inequality," the professor added. She noted that for example in South Estonia and on the islands, the children could go to school because the infection rate is low in these regions, but it's a political decision. 

Härma and Lutsar both found that children don't have to wear masks at school and currently, there is no such obligation. 

Lutsar said that the teachers should wear masks. Härma recommends older students wear masks as well, however.

"We saw how teachers infected four-five people on average, when they went to school. When a child was sick at school, he or she infected one person on average," Härma said. 

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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