Another seven-week school period kicked off on Monday. Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) reminds us of coronavirus guidelines compliance with which can help contain the spread of the virus and avoid schools having to switch to remote learning.
We know that the new Omicron strain of the coronavirus has also lent the virus new momentum, spreading even faster than previous variants. The infection rate is breaking records in several countries. We are witnesses to rapid growth of new cases also in Estonia – it seems there is no escaping the Omicron tsunami. We need to steel ourselves and do everything we can to stop the spread of the virus. By protecting ourselves and others.
Firstly – for the first two weeks, teachers and students need to be tested twice a week. For example, before going to school on Monday and again on Wednesday. Family doctors and the Health Board recommend testing at home. The possibility of testing oneself in school must also be retained. The end of the year demonstrated that rapid testing of students and staff helped keep schools open more safely and the general infection rate in schools down.
Dear parents, please make sure your child tests themselves before going to school if they have a test kit from school. Explain why it is important and instruct them if necessary. We all want our children to attend school safely.
Dear teachers, thank you for making testing simple and interesting for students.
Secondly – organization of study needs to be altered to minimize contacts. The less often classes come into contact with one another, the less chance for the virus to spread. We ask schools to observe the so-called home class principle where children walking in large groups is minimized. It is important to restrict activities to fixed groups (so-called bubbles) the members of which do not change. All interschool events need to be postponed or at the very least need to have checks.
Thirdly – it is strongly recommended to wear a mask, especially starting from seventh grade. It is crucial to wear a mask in shared premises. The state has made personal protective equipment available to local governments. Heads of schools can ask local governments for masks if necessary. Regularly washing or disinfecting one's hands is also important.
Fourthly – vaccination is still the surest way to protect oneself, with 87 percent of general education schools staff immunized. At the same time, less than half have gotten a booster dose. Data clearly shows that those who have received a vaccine booster dose are better protected than those for whom three months have passed since vaccination.
Dear education workers, please get the booster shot at your earliest convenience to remain protected. School nurses have been authorized to administer vaccines.
As a reminder – starting from February 1, vaccination certificates will be valid for nine months starting from the date of the second shot. Please check your certificate's expiry date. This should happen in March or April for many education workers.
Those who are vaccinated do not have to isolate as close contacts. We shortened the self-isolation period from ten days to seven because studies show 96 percent of people with Omicron exhibit symptoms within seven days, usually in just a few.
In schools, in the conditions of simplified quarantine, this means contacting the Health Board's call center on the fourth day after coming into contact with a Covid patient and getting a PCR test appointment. A person who tests positive using a rapid testing kit needs to get a PCR test with a family doctor's referral. The student can return to school upon testing negative. It is important for the student to only travel between school and home for three days and avoid other contacts.
Let us please be careful. Family members of a vaccinated person who has the disease need to self-isolate. Children exhibiting symptoms need to stay home.
Dear heads of schools. Please make it possible for children who have to stay home to participate in studies over video link. I know that it is not perfect, while it helps the child keep in touch with school and keep up with the curriculum.
Teachers must also be able to stay home with symptoms. University students can be utilized as assistant teachers.
If you feel you or your colleagues, students or parents could benefit from help from a pedagogical psychologist, the 1226 school psychologists' hotline is awaiting your calls.
I would like to thank all of you for patiently giving your best to ensure children's constitutional right to a good education.
Classes and schools where the infection explodes will likely have to switch to remote learning for a short period, while all such decisions need to be carefully weighed, reasoned and negotiated with the Health Board. Let us try to keep our heads cool, hearts warm and children in school.
Editor: Marcus Turovski