20 confirmed Covid-19 cases in E Cape schools

Parents picketing outside Bergville Primary in Bishop Lavis, Cape Town, calling for the boycott of the school's re-opening. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

Just in one week of schooling, the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) has confirmed that 20 people have tested positive for covid-19.

ECDoE spokesperson, Loyiso Pulumani, said the 20 consist of 15 teachers, 3 learners and 2 non-teaching staff. According to the department’s count, a further 48 persons are under investigation.

This has resulted in the closure of a number of schools in the Eastern Cape. In Buffalo City alone about 20 schools have closed. These include East London Secondary, Umthiza High, West Bank High, Greenpoint Secondary, Tyutyu Primary, Makinana Primary, Voorpos Primary, Central Primary, De Vos Malan, Bulembu Primary, Lukhanyo Primary, and Duncan Village Primary.

Elitsha has seen a letter from Duncan Village Primary, East London Secondary and Voorpos Primary to parents asking them to keep learners at home until further notice.

In Duncan Village the letter states that a School Governing Body member has tested positive for covid-19.

The Voorpos Primary letter to parents states that a staff member has shown symptoms of flu or covid-19 and is waiting for test results. The letter says that learners and staff members were now advised to remain home under self-isolation pending the results.

The East London Secondary letter to parents says that a parent of a Grade 12 learner has tested positive for covid-19 and the learner was only informed after returning from school. Grade 7 and 12 learners were told to remain home, pending results of the learner.

Pulumani said the standard operating procedure requires that any person who tests positive should inform the school management team, circuit and district. They will also have to inform the school of their symptoms before testing and contact tracing is done by the Health Department. Following procedure, they will then advise who in the school will need to be tested or isolated in self-quarantine.

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“Persons under investigation are those who have symptoms and have opted to undergo testing, thus necessitating the closure of the school or class to limit the spread of the disease,” Pulumani said, emphasising that the cleaning or fogging of the school buildings will kill the disease.

Teachers who spoke to Elitsha on condition of anonymity accused the ECDoE of not doing enough to ensure that they are safe from the virus. One of the teachers from Umthiza High said a staff member tested covid-19 positive and they were advised to remain home until classes are fumigated. Colleagues who were in contact with the staff member have not, however, been tested. “We believe that is not fair that we must first show symptoms before we are tested. The fact that we were in contact with the member means we are also in danger and we should be tested,” she said.

Eastern Cape, with 7,160, 147 deaths and 3,647 recoveries, has the second highest number of confirmed covid-19 cases per province, after the Western Cape.

The rising tide of covid-19 positive tests among teachers and learners is set get worse for the ECDoE as in some schools, personal protective equipment (PPE) has not arrived.

Temporary toilets delivered to schools in Cofimvaba district. Photo supplied.

Equal Education Eastern Cape head, Athenkosi Sopitshi, said it is very worrying that there are schools that are still waiting for PPE even while accepting learners.

“I was speaking to a parent in Lady Frere and he confirmed to me that in his school learners are back at school but PPEs have not arrived,” said Sopitshi.

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She said in some rural schools there is no water and the toilets are often broken.

Elitsha has seen a number of temporary toilets sent to rural schools. Even though the department promises to clean the toilets twice a week, in schools like Zwelihlangene Primary in Cofimvaba district, teachers said the cleaning of toilets has not started.

The incidence of covid-19 in Eastern Cape schools has Sopitshi worried about schools in deep rural areas. “There are schools in rural areas where clinics are more than 15kms away from the school. Now the department is saying that if a child in those schools shows symptoms of covid-19 the child will be rushed to the nearest clinic. Question is, who is going to rush the learner to the clinic in areas where there’s a lack of public transport? Secondly, what is going to happen if the child shows symptoms in the afternoon and the clinic is closed?” she asked.

Pulumani said the department is reliant on science-led interventions in this uncertain time and will not willingly put any learner’s or teacher’s life in danger.

“Adherence to these operating procedures is non-negotiable and action will be taken against any principal who opens a school that has not been cleaned or where there is a lack of PPE,” he said, adding that they urge parents, learners, teachers, and SGB and education officials not to panic.

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