Experts suggest honest dialogue and recitation of rules like “I wear a mask when in class and on the grass’ alleviating parents’ anxiety regarding reopening of schools.
Are we prepared to take the on sought of the third wave as far as the children are concerned?
Dr Krishan Chugh: our hospitals are conducting drills on the strategies to control the third wave. We are preparing our action plan to treat n number of patients. We know that the hospital bed ratio to the population ratio is not in our favour even when it comes to children.
In the last wave, many children produced antibodies, and the number is pretty large. Is this the reason for the confidence?
Dr Smita Malhotra: sero positivity rate is evident in children. We should emphasize that all children take influenza vaccine before going to school which will provide an additional protection till we are able to vaccinate them against Covid. Any child who are immunocompromised should take online classes which would be a prudent option for everyone.
As a career counselor, what would you tell the patents of high school students to alleviate their anxiety?
Dr Amrita Dass: There is a digital divide even in urban areas. It is important for parents to make informed decisions and discussions where they hear medical point of view also is very useful. Places where SOP’s and Covid protocols have been followed are the safest places today. Sending kids to school on alternate days with parents’ permission is very essential. I attended webinars with schools from Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand where they have been reopened and initially the attendance was at 50% attendance which later went up to 60% and for the senior students it was 80% because the board exams will not be held online this time unless there is something unforeseen.
Would you say that the parents joined with your association would be convinced with these points?
Sumit Vohra: we agree as parents that we go to public places but there the children are under parents’ supervision. When in school, kids are the responsibility of the school faculty. It is a doubt among the parents whether the schools will follow SOP’s properly or not. Had this hype of third wave not been created, parents would have been much assured about sending the kids to school. We are aware that we need to send our children for practical exams and offline board exams but then we would prefer waiting for 10 to 15 days and then allow our kids to go to school.
Dr Prakamya: we do want to protect our children and that comes out from a very legitimate point of parenting but at some point of time we need to let out children venture out. At some point we need to use this as an opportunity to develop resilience among our child. Even in the urban strata, there are a lot of children with special needs, with learning disabilities, ADHD. These children need special educators and counselors for their all-round development. Adolescent is a stage where the brain is undergoing synaptic transformation and this is an important time to intervene and provide them an environment for social and mental development. Instead of being problem-oriented, we should be more solution-oriented, which brings me to having an honest conversation between the parent and the ward, and the school administration and children.
It is difficult to teach the concept of wearing mask to a 2 or 3 year old but can students in class 9 and 10 be taught with the help of a constructive dialogue in the school and at home?
Dr Shweta Sharma: we can trust our own children to follow SOP if not school authority and if you have that bond and trust with your children, they are going to follow up this thing. Schools are second parent to the kids and they are more responsible for the overall development of the children. Therefore, trust is all the more essential.
Dr Amrita Dass: there is a policy intervention I would state here. I believe authorities should prioritize vaccinating children atleast above 12 years of age as soon as possible. Government of UP has already started this and I would urge all state governments start doing this early as possible.
Is basic vaccination more important than the so called Covid vaccination?
Dr Krishan Chugh: No vaccine other than the Covid vaccine can provide significant protection against the Covid virus. Only proper vaccine with proper dosage at proper interval can ensure that children are reasonably safe. Fortunately some vaccines like Covaxin and Zydus Cadila will be approved by the regulatory authorities to be used for children soon. But once these vaccines are approved for children, they should not be used for adults except for those who have received the first dose of the same vaccine. This will ensure that we have enough vials for kids.
We have seen more number of critical cases among adults. Would you not agree with the government for prioritizing the elderly first, then 18 above and children at last?
the last wave we have seen many mortalities among the 30’s and 40’s and fortunately children have been spared of that fatality till now. Adults have been prioritized all over the world, not just India. Even the scientific evidence suggest that this is the correct protocol to be followed.
What is your advice for policy makers, parents and students?
Dr Smita Malhotra: I think it is in the individual’s hands. Children are smarter and wiser now and they can be taught how to be responsible. If each individual in the society learns to be responsible, it is not a difficult pandemic to control.
What would you like to suggest parents like Mr Vohra?
Dr Prakamya Singal: we need to be more solution-oriented and I think the best precaution against Covid is to wear mask. But how do they wear mask for a 4-5 hour stretch? Children will behave casual and it is natural so I believe we should first ask our children if they are comfortable wearing the mask that they have. They can be engaged in mask making activities, they can use their favorite colour, have their favorite cartoons on it.
We can use the initial days before the schools open up to ease them and help them get used to the sensation of wearing a mask. We need to give out clear rules and revise them on the daily basis before they leave for school to ensure that they follow the precautions. We can recite something like, ‘I wear a mask in the class and on the grass’.
Would you agree the same method would work for 6 or 7 standard students?
Dr Shweta Sharma: Yes the same method would work because if we see children as individuals, they are efficient. Thus, please trust your ward, they will take care of their hygiene and you do not need to repeat the instruction again and again because since the last two years we have been repeated the same message.
What would you say about this Dr Dass?
Dr Amrita Dass: where schools are open, students being responsible and parents being engaged has made a difference. So let us be more pragmatic about it and look ahead and bring in all the stakeholders. Schools do care about the kids as much as the parents and want to ensure that they do not have to be kept at home again. Let us trust the stakeholders.
Dr Chugh, what would you about the increasing numbers in Kerala which might probably be adding to the anxiety of the parents?
Dr Krishan Chugh: it is not just the schools that led to increase in Kerala, I believe Delta Variant was the major cause. It is the virus that is going to decide. Science is predicting that the change in the virus is not going to be a major one.
Would you suggest parents to have a healthy dialogue with the kids or maybe engage with the schools directly?
Dr Shuchin Bajaj: prediction is not our work but we have a graded action plan. Currently the positivity rate is less than 0.04% and our action plan will start when it arrives at 0.5%. Our mistake during the last wave was that we started after it crossed 5% and then it was too late. The government will be more cautious this time and lockdown will be imposed at 0.5% positivity and schools will be shut down first. Let us trust the government on this.
What do you think is a right approach as we eventually have to send our children to schools?
Sumit Vohra: the parent should take the initiative and the schools should build trust among the children ensuring that there are no mishappenings and children do not catch virus. Let us see for 10-15 days if the SOP’s are being followed properly. If the schools build up the confidence, parents would easily send their kids to school.