Editorials

No need to panic  

COVID-19 is once again raging on New Providence and picking up steam in several other islands.

After several months of low daily reported case numbers, the past few weeks have seen record numbers of infections.

There is likely no coincidence that the higher case numbers coincide with the holiday season as many proceeded with plans to gather even though the highly transmissible Omicron variant is clearly among us.

Though there were many gatherings that were large in scale and will no doubt contribute to higher case numbers in the comings days, many social gatherings were circumspect and followed health protocols.

We hope that will mitigate some of the spread of COVID-19, but it seems this current wave has yet to peak.

The numbers will likely go higher before they come down.

But there is no need to panic in the interim.

Former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and his team of health officials largely overreacted to COVID-19, as did, arguably, much of the world.

Guided by often haphazard advice from the World Health Organization and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many world leaders immediately chose draconian measures to stop the spread of COVID to no avail.

We were told it would take two weeks of isolations, lockdowns, closures, and so forth to flatten the curve of growing cases. We were told that staying at home would stop the spread of COVID-19; it did not.

We were told that vaccination would prevent COVID-19 infection and transmission; it did not, though we do know that vaccination greatly reduces the risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19 infection.

The truth is no country has successfully stopped the spread of COVID-19.

And the further truth is that shutting down schools for prolonged periods of time will do far more harm to vulnerable members of the population than COVID-19.

We know much more now than we did 20 months ago.

And while the Davis administration has tried to balance keeping the economy going with safeguarding public health, it has failed to come up with a workable plan to reopen schools.

We were told that the recent government order for all schools except daycare facilities to operate virtually was made out of an abundance of caution.

However, we were also told that decisions of such magnitude made by health and other government officials were guided by science.

But months of evidence show that schools are not superspreader COVID-19 sites.

Furthermore, the science shows that children are not even moderately at risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection nor more likely to transmit COVID-19 to adults.

“The evidence to date suggests that staff-to-student and student-to-student transmission are not the primary means of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 among infected children,” according to the CDC.

“Several studies have also concluded that students are not the primary sources of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 among adults in school setting.”

This has been seen with the current dominant variant, the Alpha variant and the more virulent Delta variant.

A report by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company published last summer, titled “COVID-19 and Education: The Lingering Effects of Unfinished Learning”, lays out just how harmful school closures have been to children in the United States.

“Our analysis shows that the impact of the pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant, leaving students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year,” McKinsey said.

“High schoolers have become more likely to drop out of school, and high school seniors, especially those from low-income families, are less likely to go on to postsecondary education. And the crisis had an impact on not just academics but also the broader health and well-being of students, with more than 35 percent of parents very or extremely concerned about their children’s mental health.”

Thus far, we have not seen the results of a study the minister of education said was undertaken by the Department of Statistics to assess the level of absenteeism among students and the cause.

Continuing to have children in solely virtual learning also hampers the previously announced intention of the Ministry of Education to assess learning deficiencies in children once back in the classroom.

We have vaccines for those over 12. We understand which health protocols are the most effective.

And we know children are the age group least susceptible to COVID-19.

School closures should be our last resort at this point, not our first.

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