In a stakeholder meeting to address the impact of the recent COVID-19 surge, Acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Ronald Georges said these discussions are in their infant stages.
He also said testing children on regular basis, once school returns face-to-face, is one of the ways to ensure the safety of everyone and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the territory’s educational institutions.
“Obviously, the online school is quite a challenge for everybody really. So, countries around the world are dealing with this in different ways. For example, in different schools in the UK and the US, you would have seen testing regiments which may be weekly rapid testing, twice-weekly rapid testing, thrice-weekly rapid testing. These all have cost implications and there are different strategies where they would either test the entire population repeatedly or they would do more opportunistic testing,” the Acting CMO said.
“Essentially, putting a testing regiment in school is quite important in reducing the risk of infections in school and allowing schools to open safely. Right at this time, we are in the midst of an Omicron outbreak. Once things settle down, I know the Education Ministry has plans to reopen schools as quickly as they can and do have plans to review various strategies we can use to implement testing regimes in schools to ensure that we can reopen schools face-to-face in a safe manner,” he added.
The Acting CMO said the testing, like in the UK and the US, will either be the saliva test or the nasal test. He clarified that the nasal test that would be conducted is not the nasopharyngeal test. The nasopharyngeal test is the one that goes to the back of the throat and people often refer to it as the brain scrape.
“But the nasal test is really just the front of the nose and not as invasive and uncomfortable. In most programmes, the children do them by themselves and pass it to the person who can then conduct the rapid test,” Dr Georges said.
He also warned parents that once schools return to face-to-face, it is important not to send sick children to school. According to Dr Georges, COVID-19 symptoms in children tend to be mild and therefore easily transmissible.
“Inform the schools because for the two or three days prior to the child being sick, they might be infectious, and it is important for the school to know to inform other parents to be able to take measures as far as they can,” he said.
The Acting CMO further noted that schools are special environments and it is difficult for them to adhere to the recommended six feet space. However, Dr Georges said this is one of the main reasons why the BVI has followed the recommendation by the UK and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in reducing the spacing to three feet.
“That is simply because it is just difficult to manage that environment with that kind of spacing. So, the schools present specific challenges” he added.