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Overberg schools closing

Albert Myburgh Secondary School in Bredasdorp closed on Thursday 25 June due to a learner testing positive for Covid-19. Kenneth Dunsdon, principal of the school, confirmed on Sunday the school was closed from Thursday for decontamination, and would reopen again on Monday 29 June. All learners were sent home and requested they continue with their syllabi from there. In a notice sent to parents and Grade 12 learners the principal said the safety of staff and learners is the school’s top priority, thanking everyone for their patience in uncertain times.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) confirmed a total of 32 individuals working at schools in the Overberg had tested positive for Covid-19 between 15 May and 26 June. Bronagh Hammond, spokesperson for the WCED, added four learners had also tested positive for Covid-19 up until 26 June.

She said a confirmed case at a school does not necessarily require the school to be closed. “In each case, a number of factors will be considered in making the decision.” She said, firstly, the areas where the staff member or learner had physically been present needed to be disinfected.

“For example, if a staff member has only been in one or two rooms, it is possible for schooling to continue by cordoning off and sanitising those rooms,” Hammond explained. She added that if the staff member had been all over the school more areas would need to be sanitised, and this may require a temporary closure.

In addition to this, said Hammond, the date the staff member or learner was last present in the school is also important.

“The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and Department of Health has told us the virus doesn’t survive on surfaces for more than 72 hours,” she said. “If a staff member was last present at a school more than a week before sanitising a surface is not required.”

Hammond said the number of direct contacts must also be considered. “We must clearly distinguish between direct (close) contact and casual contact. Direct contact involves being very close to someone physically, or giving a hug or a handshake. Only the direct contacts of a confirmed case need to isolate for up to 14 days from the date of the last contact.”

Hammond said just being in the same room as a confirmed case, even when maintaining the 1,5 m physical distancing requirement, is considered casual contact. “Casual contacts do not need to isolate, but they should be monitored for any symptoms of Covid-19.” Hammond added that if only a handful of staff members at a school needed to isolate it would not be necessary to close a school.

“If a large number of staff members is required to isolate this may impact on the ability of a school to continue teaching and supervision. If this does happen, permission must be granted by the Head of Department to close the school.”

She explained the circumstances of each positive case will determine whether the school needs to close. “It is not an automatic decision. We have asked principals to ensure they communicate clearly to their staff and parents of learners in this regard.”

The Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA) calls on all teachers across South Africa to stay away from work, and all parents to keep their children at home. Furthermore, it demands the immediate removal of Angie Motshekga as Minister of Basic Education.

André de Bruyn, a teacher at Swartberg Secondary in Caledon, and the national media spokesperson of EUSA and head in the Western Cape, said on Monday EUSA is calling for an independent audit of tenders for personal protective equipment (PPEs) supplied to schools and for the closure of all schools at this time of the pandemic.

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