A total of 185 staff members and 49 learners have tested positive for Covid-19 in the Western Cape since 18 May, and at least 20 schools had to be closed to be disinfected last week. This was confirmed on Monday by Bronagh Hammond of the Western Cape Education Department.

The department has stressed that cases had not spiked due to the reopening of schools and that most of these cases had been reported before the schools reopened. “The number of infected staff members also includes cases where those staff members have not yet returned to school,” said Hammond. “Therefore they were not infected on school premises. Most of these cases are a result of community transmission and not school transmission.”

In line with confidentiality clauses, the department has declined to name schools that are affected, but confirms that all schools have been provided with strict guidelines on the safety protocols that have to be followed whenever an employee or learner tests positive or is exposed to someone who has tested positive. If there has been a confirmed case of Covid-19, the school is required to contact the district and also to inform the parents of the school and their employees.

In a digital press conference hosted by Premier Alan Winde last week, he who was joined by Provincial Minister of Education, Debbie Schäfer and Chairperson of the South African Paediatric Association, Professor Mignon McCulloch, amongst others, to provide the public with an update on the safe reopening of schools in the province.

Prof McCulloch again emphasised that children are at lower risk of acquiring and transmitting Covid-19 and that the benefits (educational, mental and psychological health, food security and safety) of reopening schools exceed those of keeping children at home.

“Provided the precautions of face masks, hand-sanitising, environmental cleaning and physical distancing are adhered to, we support the staggered approach of getting children back to school. Where cases of infection do arise, these should be managed on a case-by-case basis. However, we respect the autonomy of well-informed parents and caregivers to decide what is in the best interests of their children,” she said.

According to data provided by the Western Cape Department of Health, as of 5 June, there had been a total of 1 787 cases of Covid-19 in people under the age of 20 in the province. This represents roughly 6% of all cases at the time. Of these, five children (0.3%) have died, mostly due to serious comorbidities.

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