Teaching and learning was thrown into disarray early this week at the Ethembeni High School in Burgersdorp in the Eastern Cape, after the shock revelation that 98 of the 900 learners have tested positive for Covid 19. The number has since increased to 102 after more tests were conducted leaving the school community confused and rattled.
According to the school principal, Dira Moleko, they became aware of the problem during their routine morning check-ups. He said some learners showed worrying signs of having contracted the virus and they decided to test the entire learner population including teachers. The outbreak hit the school at the time when some grades are busy with their trial examinations.
Moleko blamed the spread of the coronavirus on the nearby community where he claims majority of residents do not adhere to Covid 19 containment measures. “Our school is situated near a place called Thembisa and many people here do not put on masks, let alone observe physical distancing. There are two taverns in the area and most of our learners are always there. There is no monitoring and security and the underage learners are allowed in,” said Moleko.
The Eastern Cape Education MEC, Fundile Gade said: “Of the 685 tested learners and teachers, 98 learners have tested positive. Our team is giving hourly updates to help establish the number of matrics from this group who tested positive for isolation.”
Gade said they had to intervene quickly to ensure that they contain the spread of the virus before it can affect the broader community. One of the immediate steps we took, he said, was to establish a “multi departmental team consisting of the local municipality, departments of health, public works and education to manage the spread of this outbreak and advise on measures suitable for learners especially those writing their trial examinations”.
He said they decided to quarantine learners who have tested positive, adding that the department of health has also indicated that another 552 learners will be quarantined in Aliwal North, at a facility owned by the department of public works. Gade said they have arranged with the relevant departmental directorate to assist the learners during their trial examinations.
He said despite testing positive, the multi-sectoral team advised them to allow learners to write the examinations because “there are no reasons to stop the learners since they are medically fit”. Gade said they have also increased their level of adherence to the basic preventative measures including asking the invigilators to put on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and closely monitoring scripts for a specified period before being marked. He assured teachers and school managers that his department will provide enough PPE on regular basis.
Gade said they are also working closely with “sister departments” to provide psycho-social support specifically counselling services to all learners. He said they are working with families of the affected learners and have provided them with their results so that they can adopt regulated coping mechanisms should they test positive.
Gade said people who had contacts with the 98 positive learners are also “being tracked and traced to avoid any loss of life especially to those parents and families who may have comorbidities”.
The reports of the outbreak of the Covid 19 at the Ethembeni High Schools come just days after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the country’s move to alert level 1 lockdown. In relaxing the Covid 19 regulations, Ramaphosa warned against complacency and called on the citizens to continue to practise the basic preventative measures: wearing of mask, regular sanitisation and keeping safe physical distance.