School attendance is low, and masks are obligatory, but there’s little control over physical distancing.
By Ana Lucia Cruz (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – The Ministry of Education in Nicaragua ordered the reopening of public schools as scheduled on July 21, beginning the second semester of Nicaragua’s academic year. The return to class was ordered despite the warning of health experts that it could trigger an increased spread of COVID-19.
In a tour that Confidencial reporters made of public schools in Managua, the low attendance was evident, as well as the risk that the students run given the lack of control over their physical distancing.
At the “September 14” elementary school, some of the parents arrived to say that their children wouldn’t be attending “to avoid getting infected”. Others, though, did opt to send their children to class. One mother who agreed to speak with Confidencial explained that she has two children studying at that school: one attends first grade in the morning, and the other attends high school classes in the afternoon. She noted that attendance in both sections was low.
“My little boy told me that only half of his classmates came. Many parents aren’t sending their children out of fear. I’m one of the fearful ones, but I’m sending them this week to try and see if they can continue, now that they’ve made the use of masks obligatory. If it doesn’t work out, I’m gong to take them out of school,” she affirmed.
Social distancing difficult to control
On the first day back to school, the lack of control over children keeping physically distance from each other could be noted. In both the “May 1st” Elementary School and the “September 14th” School, the teachers were grouped together minutes before the start of the school day to open the gates for students. The students crowded together in the same way to enter the school grounds.
In the different classrooms, the desks were spaced a little over a meter apart, as well as more space left between these and the teacher’s desk.
In the “Miguel Bonilla Obando” High School, as in the 14th of September elementary school, the security guards checked that students weren’t entering without washing their hands. Improvised handwashing stations with soap had been set up by the main gates.
The security guard at the high school explained that this is a new measure and that they’re being strict about not letting any student go in without washing their hands and putting on a face mask.
Attendance is low
A high school student from “Miguel Bonilla” told Confidencial that he’s not afraid of contagion now that masks are compulsory. However, he confirmed that there are many in his class who aren’t attending because their parents have chosen to take them out of school. The teen estimates that of 40 students in his homeroom, only half were attending.
The educational authorities had hoped that by the beginning of the second semester on July 21 attendance would have stabilized; that was the expectation expressed by Salvador Vanegas, presidential advisor on education, in an interview in an official government media.
Vanegas recognized that the close of the first semester was “irregular”, as it was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We can’t claim that it’s been an ordinary academic cycle (…) [but] it’s not true that there’s been permanent absence. What there has been is irregular attendance. The department of Nueva Segovia for example closed with an average [attendance] of 87%,” Vanegas declared.
Lesbia Rodriguez, the president of the unofficial United Teachers’ Union, has blamed the Ortega regime for the death of over 30 educators, who died from suspected cases of COVID-19 after being obligated to teach in their schools despite the pandemic.
“The teachers are being forced to go to their centers, even if the students don’t come out of fear of the pandemic. They travel in the crowded [public] buses. This is behind the deaths of those educators,” she declared
Preventive measure come late
Four months from the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in Nicaragua, the Ministry of Education has finally taken measure to prevent contagion in the schools. On July 14, the Ministry published its “Guidelines for the opening of the 2020 second semester”, which outlined the measures to be taken in each school or educational center to prevent the spread of infection.
The guide states that they will continue applying the handwashing protocols, with support from the families to guarantee soap and water. The obligatory use of masks wasn’t mentioned.
The guide also established the reorganization of the students’ placement, to maintain a prudent distance and avoid crowding during the class sessions. It also asked centers to elaborate class schedules staggering the times for recess and dismissal.
Doctors report children with the virus
In Nicaragua, there are no official statistics on the gender, age, city of origin or any other detail of those who’ve been infected. Even the independent monitoring group “Citizen’s Covid-19 Observatory” doesn’t have a record of cases among children.
Doctor Eduardo Lopez, a pediatric lung specialist and a member of the Multidisciplinary Scientific Committee for COVID-19 in Nicaragua, says that on May 27 he treated his first pediatric patient with symptoms of SARS-CoV-2. On June 14, he attended his most recent case with the same symptoms, for a total of 18 underage patients with suspected cases of COVID-19 in less than a month.
Since the COVID-19 tests have been centralized by the government and are generally hard to get, Lopez notes that he’s had to base his diagnoses on the patients’ clinical presentation. “It’s true that we don’t have a positive test result, but the parents of over 90% of these patients had symptoms that were compatible with those of COVID-19.” To Dr. Lopez: “that similarity was the best diagnostic test”.
The eighteen young patients that Dr. Lopez has treated have had good outcomes. “They’ve all recovered satisfactorily, and we’ve used different world protocols to treat them, depending on their clinical manifestations”. Dr. Lopez is proud of the fact that he hasn’t had “the need to hospitalize any of them.”
Doctor Fulgencio Baez, a pediatric oncologist and also a member of the Multidisciplinary Committee, has also attended “several cases [a week] of children and teens with diagnostic criteria suggestive of COVID-19”. Like Dr. Lopez, Dr. Baez hasn’t had a single case that needed hospitalization. “All the cases I’ve treated have been ambulatory or by videoconference from home. I saw two families – one with eleven children and the other with six – where everyone got sick except for two girls, who may also have been infected but remained asymptomatic,” Dr. Baez related.
However, he does know of some colleagues who’ve treated children needing more rigorous follow-up. “I know of one pediatric infections specialist who has treated four children that had to be hospitalized with complications. Several hospitals had to be involved in these cases.”
According to information passed to Confidencial from the German Nicaraguan Hospital [currently a center for COVID-19 treatment] where the number of patients admitted has dropped in the last month, some five children were admitted over the last weeks.