RADHICA DE SILVA
Faced with a possible community spread of COVID-19, independent paediatrician Dr David Bratt believes all public schools should stay closed if the Government fails to provide proper protective equipment for students and teachers.
During an interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Bratt said more people may be walking around with COVID-19 without knowing it.
He said the correct rate of infection in T&T remains unknown because of insufficient testing, noting the country had the third-lowest level of testing in the Caribbean.
“We are testing at a rate of 4,000 tests per million. Mauritius is an island with a similar population to us and they’re testing at a rate of 161,400 tests per million. They did 205,285 tests. We have done over 6,305 and over a thousand of those are repeated. We are one of the lowest in the world, only Haiti and Guyana are testing less than we are,” Bratt said in a telephone interview.
He recommended that schools be reopened in September only if the Ministry of Education provides all the protective equipment to keep the teachers and children safe.
“That is a difficult problem and the main factor is whether the Government will supply the schools with equipment to ensure schools will open safely, such as hand sanitisers, equipment to screen children. Schools right now are not in a position to open. Private schools may open but public schools are overcrowded,” he said.
He added that many children with symptoms of COVID-19 were sent for testing but were turned away because they had no travel history.
Meanwhile, consultant physician Dr Joel Teelucksingh said the two recent cases highlight the importance of increased and aggressive testing, tracing and isolation, especially if borders are porous.
“Social distancing, masks and scrupulous hygiene involving handwashing are essential to break these chains of transmission. Most infections in children appear mild or asymptomatic and the chance for transmission remains low,” Teelucksingh said.
Asked whether schools should reopen and exams should be cancelled, Teelucksingh said, “There is no need to cancel exams yet but the ministry will have to ensure that schools are safe to return in September, including water and air quality, avoid AC units, have hand sanitisers available and keep desks apart.”
He noted that a proper assessment should be done before these decisions are taken.