Asked Questions


  1. These answers were prepared as an outcome of discussions between a senior health panel, national education unions and school governing body associations
  2. Having this information does NOT make any of us experts.  The science is constantly changing and we must follow the leadership of the scientists and of government.  Schools and officials are obliged to follow the prescripts from those they report to and procedures are not up for discussion
  3. Please remember that the management of the virus is going to be a challenge for educators and for the country for at least the next year to 18 months or more. COVID is not a problem for only the next 3 – 6 months; it will be with us till the end of 2021 and even 2022. So, the question is not what we are going to do when open schools – but what must we do at schools for the longer term – until we have the vaccine or have herd immunity. We cannot keep schools closed till end of 2021 or 2022.

What is the role of schools in managing the epidemic nationally?

Our social and health purpose is to reduce the rate of infection. This means that we may have the same number of people infected but we need to manage the epidemic over time so that the number of people infected at a particular time does not overwhelm the health system. Flattening the curve means ensuring a longer period of time for people to get infected – the same number of people over a longer time frame to spread the demand on hospitals by severe cases.

Daily screening – what do we do if our thermal screener is malfunctioning?

In terms of screening, thermo-scanners (monitoring temperature) this is not useful in detecting symptoms because 50-80% of infected individuals will not show symptoms (asymptomatic) so there is no value in thermo-screening based.

Can children get sick and die from Covid-19?

Schools were closed because it was assumed that this virus would be like influenza virus – and children are an important vector (transmitter) of influenza virus.

Children are not major transmitters of the Coronavirus.

Children die from influenza virus – but only very rarely from COVID, and the available evidence suggests that they are not at risk of developing severe disease from COVID. There might be exceptions to this rule – but most will only have mild or no symptoms.

What I do if a teacher or learner presents at school with possible symptoms?

If a teacher or a learner or any of the school staff show symptoms that suggest that they may have the virus, they should be kept out of school until they are tested and results confirm that they are negative or non-infectious.

Testing should be at the nearest facility (community health centre) and will be by nasal swab (unless school has a nurse). While waiting for test results, the learner/teacher/worker must self-quarantine at home.

If the learner or teacher or worker is found to have the virus, it is recommended that they self-quarantine at home for 14 days.

There is no need to have quarantine (isolation) facilities at schools. Boarding schools may need this.

As the normal flu season kicks in, we are likely to get a convergence of influenza and COVID – if test shows that symptoms are not COVID, the learner/teacher/worker can return to school.

How do the tests work?

Testing is by nasal or throat swab. There is a huge backlog (it is currently taking 5 – 14 days to get results) because of a global shortage of materials for testing and because of processing backlogs.

What surfaces must be sanitised?

There is no need to de-sanitize schools that have not been used for several weeks as the virus at most survives only 3 days. No virus if there are no people in the environment.

There is no need to spray school with chlorine or anything else
Under no circumstances should children (or teachers or workers) be sprayed with chemical compounds.

De-contamination must be done on surfaces people will come in contact with– handles for example, desktop etc. – but need to do several times a day. De-contamination should be focused on areas where people touch (Desks; taps; door handles), and not the school playground.

Ideally, learners should remain at the same desk for the school day. Rub desk and chair down at end of day. Teachers should move, not learners. If learners move, then need to decontaminate desks etc. for each new class.

Best solution for cleaning surfaces – alcohol or household detergent.

How do I manage wearing masks at school?

All teachers and learners should be equipped with 2- 3 masks, and each mask must be washed every day.

The purpose of the mask is to protect other people – cough with droplets not spread as far – do not protect the wearer.

In high school learners can wear a mask – especially if any symptoms – such as for influenza.

Difficult for very young children to wear a mask – not recommended for under 5 – should wear mask in classroom – Handling of masks – must be washed each day – so each learner needs more than 1 mask – consider having different coloured masks so the learner has a clean mask each day but physical distancing and hand washing are much more important.

It is not healthy for children to wear mask all day. Hand washing/sanitization essential.

How do I manage hand hygiene at school?

Hand sanitizers need to be available in schools but due to the unsustainability of these, it is advised that schools be equipped with soap and running water for washing hands.

Teachers need to always have sanitizers on them.

Basic hand-hygiene/coughing practices will need to be part of the curriculum if they are already not. This will also help with the spread of other viruses including influenza.

What is best practice in terms of Physical distancing?

Reality is that it is impossible for every learner to be 1.5 m apart – they will get infected. No getting away from this. We will NOT be able to prevent people getting infected. We need to be pragmatic.

We need to limit the gathering of children and movement within the school must be limited as much as possible to limit them infecting other people. In the playground, if learners spread out, they should take masks off. But limit breaks – it is better to have 3 x 10 mins breaks rather than 1 x 30 mins.

Risk of infection greatest if in 1.5 m of person for more than 15 – 30 mins. This is close contact.

What special measures are required for learners traveling on public transport?

Standard social distancing procedures that guide public transport should be observed in attempts to reduce the spread.

Providers must provide sanitizing and ensure social distancing and masks.

Please see the general guidelines on public transport issues by the CMSA.

What are ‘co-morbidity factors’ ? How do these affect learners and educators?

Gen morbidity is 1%; higher if comorbidity can increase to 10 – 15%

  • Over 65 +
  • Hypertension, 
  • obesity, 
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • HIV – no higher risk if on anti-retro-virals; so, NB to be tested and treated

Risks to both children and teachers increases with morbidity factors, and more with multiple factors.

What are the risks to teachers?

The biggest concern in schools is not about children infecting children but more about teachers possibly infecting children because children are already infecting each other in their communities.
The Greatest threat to teachers is other teachers, not the children
Teachers should avoid close contact with learners and with each other
Little need to have close contact with children – so this should be avoided. (difficult in ECD and special needs).
Children can be infected by teachers – they have the same infection rates as adults, but they do not develop severe disease – the immune system clears the virus quickly and does not let it develop a high viral nose – so not infectious. Adults with mild symptoms still have high viral load and are infectious.
Have staff meeting outside to prevent self- inoculation – virus on surfaces
Teacher at home engaging with other adults have similar risk as if going to school – but if have comorbidities must be very careful about physical distancing
The Union Survey trying to establish incidence of co-morbidities in teachers will give a high-level summary of the situation

Are there medical reasons for the phased reopening of schools?

Phased opening means that schools can start putting institutional practices into place; enables SMTs to see what is to be done and how to do it; gives everyone a chance to get used to the new normal. Can use time to educate teachers and parents so that behavior changes.

We need to use this ‘pilot’ time to assess and learn – and we need  more than a few weeks to do so

We will all understand more after the first few weeks 

We could open schools faster – if all the hand hygiene etc. routines in place.