Covid-19 fears at Masi school

Masiphumelele High School Principal Nelson Mafrika on the left.

A Masiphumelele High School teacher says he is unhappy he had to learn about a Covid-19 case at his workplace from the rumour mill and not from his superiors.

The school was decontaminated on Monday afternoon.

The teacher, whose name is known to the Echo but who did not want to be identified, said he and his colleagues had heard rumours about three positive cases at the school, but there had been no official word from the principal.

He wrote to the Echo on Friday June 26, saying staff were all scared of returning to work on Monday if the school had not been decontaminated.

“We are terrified. If we contract this disease and take it home to our families in another way and by accident, so it is, but at the moment we don’t know where we can safely go, where we can be or not to be, and we have our families to think about. It is better,” he said, “for the school to be open with us and inform us of the truth.”

He said failing to address rumours circulating in the community could cause panic. He understood Covid-19 patients had a right to confidentiality, but he felt the school’s staff and pupils should also be alerted to a potential risk.

“We want to know that there is no denial of any positive cases and that stakeholders, staff and learners will be informed by the school leadership where cases are confirmed,” he said.

On Monday, the teacher said he had spoken to school principal Nelson Mafrika about what he felt was a “lack of transparency” in the way the issue had been handled. The teacher said Mr Mafrika had since spoken with him and other teachers openly, and he had confirmed that there had been a single Covid-19 case at the school. However, the Echo was unable to independently verify this with either Mr Mafrika or the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).

Mr Mafrika told the Echo he was not allowed to comment on the situation, even though he wanted to. He acknowledged that he knew rumours were being spread, but said he was not allowed to speak about Covid-19 and all communication had to be done through the WCED.

The department’s spokeswoman, Bronagh Hammond, confirmed parts of the school had been decontaminated on Monday afternoon but wouldn’t confirm whether that was because of a Covid-19 case at the school.

“We do not disclose the medical records of our employees. I can confirm that an area of the school was decontaminated by professionals. The need to close the school was not necessary.”

However, she said the department was investigating whether the principal had followed the correct procedures in notifying staff and the school community, which was necessary for tracing purposes.

The department wouldn’t do such an investigation if there had not been a Covid-19 case at the school.

So far, 13 pupils across the metro south school district have tested positive for Covid-19, according to Ms Hammond. And as of Friday June 26, 143 employees at 77 schools across the province had tested positive for Covid-19.

“A confirmed case does not necessarily require a school to be closed. In each case, a number of factors will be considered in making the decision,” Ms Hammond said.

According WCED to protocols, only the areas where the infected person has been physically present need to be disinfected, and schooling can continue if only a limited part of the school needs to be cordoned off. If a wider area is affected, it’s more likely the school will be closed temporarily for more extensive cleaning.

Ms Hammond said it was also unnecessary to sanitise surfaces if the infected person had last been at school more than a week earlier because the virus couldn’t survive on surfaces for more than 72 hours.

Also, only those who had had close physical contact with the infected person needed to isolate for up to 14 days from the date of last contact. Simply being in the same room with a confirmed case, albeit 1.5m away from them, is considered casual contact, not direct contact.

Casual contacts do not need to isolate, but they should be monitored for any symptoms of Covid-19.

Ms Hammond said that if only a handful of staff needed to isolate, it would not be necessary to close a school.

The circumstances of each positive case determined whether the school should close, she said. It was not an automatic decision and needed the head of department’s approval.

“We have asked principals to ensure that they communicate clearly to their staff and parents of learners if there is a case in the school, the procedures going forward and what has been done to ensure safety,” Ms Hammond said.