Schools and classrooms might be the safest places for children to be amid the coronavirus pandemic, a member of Turkey's Coronavirus Science Board said Friday.
Students across the country were set to return to classrooms on Sept. 21, but, facing uncertainty amid a rise in coronavirus cases, the Education Ministry on Monday postponed the reopening of schools.
The ministry instead opted to allow kindergartens to reopen, while ordering elementary schools to allow only first graders to come for only a few days per week. The ministry said the decision was taken to help children familiarize themselves with the concepts of education before thrusting them into the hectic nature of online education.
With the ministry opting to play it safe, parents with young children are led to ponder whether it is actually safe to send children to daycares or schools, despite the lengthy list of precautions the campuses have had to take.
But according to board member and professor Dr. Ateş Kara, schools involve less risk of contracting the coronavirus for children, granted everyone involved, from parents to teachers, adheres to the precautions.
“If we can take our children to school in line with precautions and keep the number of students in schools limited, yes, there will still be a risk, but it will be minimal. It will probably be less risky than for students to be outside,” Kara said.
Blaming the resurgence of new infections on the decreasing use of masks, Kara said masks were the single most effective precaution against the outbreak.
“The false sense of security that led people to stop using masks has led to a rise in new infections. When you go to your friend’s house for a visit, you take off your mask, thinking you and your friend are OK. But one of you might be an asymptomatic carrier and could infect the other,” Kara said.
According to Kara, a closer look at Health Ministry data shows that most infections occur at places where people feel safe and lower their guard.
“If we pay attention to wearing a mask and practice social distancing, we can overcome this outbreak, even in the fall or winter season. But if we go on like this, cases will only increase,” he warned.
Urging parents to not only wear a mask themselves but to teach their children as well, Kara said children can become potent spreaders if they or their parents ignore measures.
“Yes, children get less affected, but they still do. Just like the adults, they contract the virus and they spread it. That’s why they can become walking virus spreaders. We really need to be mindful of this. We shouldn’t allow children to go outside unless it is absolutely necessary,” he said.
He also warned parents against sending children to school if they show any symptoms.
“If there are any symptoms in any adults around a child, the said child should be considered infected and not be allowed to go to school. You might get them tested, or examined, or even keep them at home to observe, but you can’t risk sending them to school. That child can infect their friend, who in turn can infect their parents at home. We need to act in a way to prevent this. If there is such a scenario, that child should stay at home,” Kara said.
Despite his many recommendations, Kara did not offer any advice for parents on how to teach children – some of them barely able to go to the toilet on their own at age 4 – to wear a mask.