“May you live in interesting times” goes the ancient blessing/curse. Well here we are. Two weeks ago today I was flying in a helicopter without a care in the world and now the world is in covid19 lockdown.
All except Australian schools.
As a public teacher in a very large secondary school, I’m not altogether pleased about this. In fact, I’m getting angry. Everywhere else in the world schools have been closed and kids have been taught by the teachers online. It’s exactly the same as all of these office workers now working from home. And just what has our government done? Looked around the world and latched on to the only country who has kept kids at school and has dampened down the spread of coronavirus.
“We’re following the Singapore model of keeping kids in school,” says our Prime Minister.
Except they’re NOT.
In Singapore every kid is temperature tested before they enter the school. If they have a temperature, they’re sent home. As soon as they’re through the school gates, they’re made to wash their hands with soap. This is critical to the success of the Singapore model.
The kids wander in, mingling freely with their friends. Their lockers are jammed together in little areas, so the kids are literally standing over, around and under each other to get their books and laptops to get to class. No one takes their temperature. No one makes them wash their hands unless they go to the toilet where (hopefully) they do that then.
The government is refusing to do the very things that make the Singapore and Taiwan models work. Yet they’re saying that we’re following these models to keep our schools safe. It’s total BS.
So if even one kid is incubating, we won’t know about it. The alarming thing is, given all of the crowding together that is a natural part of school life, a kid who is incubating the coronavirus won’t just pass it on to the 2.6 people that we see in the graphs and charts. They’ll pass it on to far more.
Ever seen kids in a line at the canteen at lunchtime??? Even the kids that aren’t buying anything swarm around the area, drawn by the smell of hot food and the hope that they’ll be able to scavenge a chip from someone. I have yard duty at the canteen at lunchtime tomorrow. I’ll be surrounded by literally hundreds of kids. It only takes one kid to be carrying the virus…
We have a school with around 2,300 teenagers and 200 teachers. It’s not a huge, sprawling campus. The corridors and passageways between buildings are always crowded in between classes. You’d be lucky to get 1.5cms between people at these times, let alone 1.5 metres, which is the official guideline for social distancing.
Two days ago the Prime Minister announced new rules for indoor gatherings. “…what we are now moving to is an arrangement for gatherings of less than 100, is that there would be 4 square metres provided per person in an enclosed space, in a room. So that’s 2 metres by 2 metres.”
Great. Sounds good. But schools are exempt from this rule. Imagine how big classrooms would have to be to allow that much space for 28 kids and a teacher? So although everyone else in society has to stay away from each other, we’re still all jammed into small rooms for 6 periods a day.
As of Friday, we were directed to move all tables apart in rows, in an attempt to keep kids as far away from each other as possible. I had a year 7 class. Twenty kids were at school, while 8 had chosen to stay home.
“Why are we doing this?” asked Shaye, as the kids were obediently moving their tables into the new positions.
“It’s the coronavirus. We’re just trying to keep people as safe as we can,” I said.
“But it’s pointless!” she said. “Our lockers are centimetres apart!!”
If a 13-year-old girl can see it and our politicians can’t, there’s more to worry about than covid19. And then of course, during the course of the lessons that followed, I walked up and down and around those set-apart desks to keep an eye on the kids’ work, to offer help and to generally make sure the kids were on track.
If I’d kept appropriate social distancing, I’d be teaching them from outside through an open window. It’s ridiculous.
I want to state very clearly that I don’t blame my principal or the admin team for this at all. Their hands are tied. We’re a public school and until the government changes their mind, they have to keep the school open.
Our school is doing the best it can, such as staggering the beginning of lunchtimes, ( years 7 and 8 go out 10 minutes before the end of period 4 to reduce congestion at the canteen) and staggering the end of the day (years 9 and 10 leave 10 minutes earlier than everyone else to reduce the congestion at the school gates.) Hand sanitiser containers have been fixed to the wall outside staff toilets and in places like the Theatre where I teach drama. All my year 9’s now have ultra-clean hands before we start our lessons!
But it’s not enough. The whole philosophy underpinning this is that “Kids don’t get sick from coronavirus.” That doesn’t mean that they can’t carry it. And guess what? Not everyone in a school is in their teens. To the surprise of no one, teachers tend to be older than their students. Sometimes much older. But who cares? Teachers are expected to soldier on, coming in close contact every day with kids who could be asymptomatic.
The definition is as follows: “In medicine, a disease is considered asymptomatic if a patient is a carrier for a disease or infection but experiences no symptoms.”
I’m 56. I’m in a high-risk work environment. Because of this, I’ve decided to self-isolate from my elderly parents and my brother who suffered a stroke on Christmas Day last year. Ironic, because the very reason I went part-time this year was to spend time with my Mum and brother. I, and many teachers like me, are growing increasingly aware that our employer is gambling with our health. We’re the sacrificial lambs in all of this.
As of last week, teachers have been directed to take everything we need to teach from our homes home each night. Kids have been told to take the contents of their lockers home, only bringing to school the textbooks and materials needed for each day’s classes. We’re ready for on-line education. Heck, we’re doing it now for the kids who are already self-isolating. But the government refuses to act.
One kid who is coming down with the virus or is a carrier is a huge risk to the school community. It’s not as if the virus respects school gates, stepping back and waiting politely for the end-of-day bell to ring before continuing on its biological imperative of infecting as many hosts as possible. Students, teachers and the support staff are all living with what seems to be a ticking time bomb.
Personally, I’d rather teach kids where ALL of us can be safe. At the moment, that is on-line. The government is gambling with teachers’ and students’ health and I’m not happy about it.
Finally, let me post an article I saw on Facebook that was written by a doctor last week. He argues the points why he and his wife chose to pull their kids out of school last week to self-isolate. It deserves a read.
LOCKDOWN FOR YOUR FAMILY
This is why I have pulled my kids from school. I’m a doctor who works at two hospitals in a city of 300,000 people. The hospitals aren’t in overload. We have hardly any cases of suspected coronavirus cases in hospital. It’s the calm before the storm. Medical staff are bracing themselves for whatever might be in a few weeks. School holidays are 9 days away for public schools.
The government won’t close down schools early because:
Reason #1. “It will take essential health professionals away from looking after sick patients”
Concerns: If my child comes home from school with a sore throat or cough my child won’t get tested for COVID-19 as per state health policy. As a parent of a potentially infected child, I will be quarantined for 14 days even if I don’t have symptoms. Even if I get tested, if I don’t have symptoms, a negative test won’t clear me to go back to work. If I stay home to look after my sick child, my quarantine will last longer than 14 days at a high risk that at some point I may develop symptoms and end up being also infected. If I allow my wife to soldier on without my involvement, I must quarantine myself somewhere outside the home (probably in a tent in the backyard feeling absolutely fine, while I watch the rest of my family become infected. Then after 14 days of braving out my quarantine, I will wave my sick family goodbye to save the patients who don’t mean as much to me (sorry, have to be honest).
Reason #2. “Unsupervised teenagers will flock to malls spreading contagion everywhere”
Concerns: Don’t sick teenagers usually stay at home rather than running around the mall coughing all over people. Is hanging out at the mall in groups of 3-5 friends more or less of a transmission risk than hanging out in classes of 20 to 30 students at school? And I didn’t think teenagers hung out at the mall with grownups. But they do hangout with susceptible grownups at schools. Have we thought about the teachers altruistically looking after our children, who then go home hoping they haven’t just passed on the virus to their own family?
Reason #3: “Grandparents will be exposed to children who may be carriers”
Concerns: Consider this. The government believes there isn’t a lot of infection in schools at present. Which makes now the perfect time to have grandparents locked in with their grandkids at home leaving parents to save the world. If we wait till there is community spread, we’ve lost the chance to have grandparents save the day. In fact, we have now made it impossible for grandchildren to hug their grandparents without worrying that they’ve dealt a death blow to Nana. We are acting as if numbers are really quite low and that we have time, when in fact waiting to act limits our options.
So today, I came home from work, changed my clothes, sanitised and washed my hands, and wrestled with my 5 year old son who has been in lockdown since Friday. How many health professionals can do that now with confidence? Closing schools and locking down now gives us a huge advantage which we will lose if we don’t do the inevitable now. If you don’t think it’s inevitable then you will need to explain why you think we are immune when almost all of Europe is in lockdown.
Edited to add: look what happened a few hours after I pressed ‘publish’.
I’m a miracle worker!!!!