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COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools

While COVID-19 continues to spread it is important that communities take action to prevent further transmission, reduce the impacts of the outbreak and support control measures.

The protection of children and educational facilities is particularly important. Precautions are necessary to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 in school settings; however, care must also be taken to avoid stigmatizing students and staff who may have been exposed to the virus. It is important to remember that COVID-19 does not differentiate between borders, ethnicities, disability status, age or gender. Education settings should continue to be welcoming, respectful, inclusive, and supportive environments to all. 

Measures taken by schools can prevent the entry and spread of COVID-19 by students and staff who may have been exposed to the virus, while minimizing disruption and protecting students and staff from discrimination.

Today, children and young people are global citizens, powerful agents of change and the next generation of caregivers, scientists, and doctors. Any crisis presents the opportunity to help them learn, cultivate compassion and increase resilience while building a safer and more caring community. Having information and facts about COVID-19 will help diminish students’ fears and anxieties around the disease and support their ability to cope with any secondary impacts in their lives.

Education can encourage students to become advocates for disease prevention and control at home, in school, and in their community by talking to others about how to prevent the spread of viruses. Maintaining safe school operations or reopening schools after a closure requires many considerations but, if done well, can promote public health.

What can I do as a parent/caregiver and community member?

Know the latest facts

Understand basic information about coronavirus, including its symptoms, complications and transmission. Stay informed about COVID-19 through reputable sources such as UNICEF and WHO and national health ministry advisories. Be aware of fake information/myths that may circulate by word-of-mouth or online. 

Recognize the symptoms of COVID-19 (coughing, fever, shortness of breath) in your child. Seek medical advice by first calling your health facility/provider and then take your child in, if advised. Remember that symptoms of COVID-19 such as cough or fever can be similar to those of the flu, or the common cold, which are a lot more common. If your child is sick, keep them home from school and notify the school of your child’s absence and symptoms. Request reading and assignments so that students can continue learning while at home. Explain to your child what is happening in simple words and reassure them that they are safe.

Keep children in school when healthy

If your child isn’t displaying any symptoms such as a fever or cough it’s best to keep them in school – unless a public health advisory or other relevant warning or official advice has been issued affecting your child’s school. Instead of keeping children out of school, teach them good hand and respiratory hygiene practices for school and elsewhere, like frequent hand washing, covering a cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or tissue, then throwing away the tissue into a closed bin, and not touching their eyes, mouths or noses if they haven’t properly washed their hands. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water, if hands are visibly dirty.

Help children cope with the stress

Children may respond to stress in different ways. Common responses include having difficulties sleeping, bedwetting, having pain in the stomach or head, and being anxious, withdrawn, angry, clingy or afraid to be left alone. Respond to children’s reactions in a supportive way and explain to them that they are normal reactions to an abnormal situation. Listen to their concerns and take time to comfort them and give them affection, reassure them they’re safe and praise them frequently. If possible, create opportunities for children to play and relax. Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible, especially before they go to sleep, or help create new ones in a new environment. Provide age-appropriate facts about what has happened, explain what is going on and give them clear examples on what they can do to help protect themselves and others from infection. Share information about what could happen in a reassuring way. For example, if your child is feeling sick and staying at home or the hospital, you could say, “You have to stay at home/at the hospital because it is safer for you and your friends. I know it is hard (maybe scary or even boring) at times, but we need to follow the rules to keep ourselves and others safe. Things will go back to normal soon.”

Checklist for parents/caregivers and community members

  • Encourage your child to ask questions and express their feelings with you and their teachers.
  • Remember that your child may have different reactions to stress; be patient and understanding.
  • Prevent stigma by using facts and reminding students to be considerate of one another
  • Monitor your child’s health and keep them home from school if they are ill 
  • Teach and model good hygiene practices for your children
  • Ensure that safe drinking water is available and toilets are clean and available at home
  • Ensure waste is safely collected, stored and disposed of
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow and avoid touching your face
  • Coordinate with the school to receive information and ask how you can support

For students and children 

Children and young people should understand basic, age-appropriate information about coronavirus, including its symptoms, complications, how it is transmitted and how to prevent transmission. Stay informed about COVID-19 through reputable sources. Be aware of fake information/myths that may circulate by word-of-mouth or online.

Checklist for students and children 

  • In a situation like this it is normal to feel sad, worried, confused, scared or angry. Know that you are not alone and talk to someone you trust, like your parent or teacher so that you can help keep yourself and your school safe and healthy.
  • Ask questions, educate yourself and get information from reliable sources
  • Protect yourself and others
  • Wash your hands frequently, always with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Remember to not touch your face
  • Do not share cups, eating utensils, food or drinks with others
  • Be a leader in keeping yourself, your school, family and community healthy.
  • Share what you learn about preventing disease with your family and friends,
  • Model good practices such as sneezing or coughing into your elbow and washing your hands, especially for younger family members
  • Don’t stigmatize your peers or tease anyone about being sick; remember that the virus doesn’t follow geographical boundaries, ethnicities, age or ability or gender.
  • Tell your parents, another family member, or a caregiver if you feel sick, and ask to stay home.

This article has been extracted from a longer document: “Key Messages and Actions for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools” and is published with the permission of its author, Lisa Bender (Education UNICEF NYHQ), also written with WHO and IFRC. It can be read in full here: 

https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/key-messages-and-actions-for-covid-19-prevention-and-control-in-schools-march-2020.pdf?sfvrsn=baf81d52_4

For accompanying supplemental content, annexes such as child friendly materials and contextualization, visit the Education Cluster site: https://educationcluster.app.box.com/s/jhys6hljyfbg42ph6wdkpce8cxr1r63b

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