Reopening of Schools in Oyo State – A Clear and Present Danger. By Senator Teslim Kolawole Folarin

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As a stakeholder in Oyo State, I feel compelled to offer advice on the decision of the State government to re-open our schools for certain classes of pupils. The absolute priority of any government is to safeguard lives and properties and the decision to reopen schools to any age group at this time in Oyo State, goes against that. Hours after the announcement to reopen schools, the State Governor, through his official twitter handle, informed the world of 68 more (daily) positive cases of covid 19. This is one of the highest recorded daily cases of covid19 in Oyo State.

The decision of the State government also comes hours after the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force warned State Governments against reopening schools, stadiums, viewing centres and other places of large worship. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cutural Organisations (UNESCO) also offered clear advice on when States should reopen schools. These included establishing necessary hygiene facilities, reduction in classroom size to take account of social distancing and available community psychological support. The directive from the State government that schools should provide handwash points with support of PTAs shows that we are not abiding by the advice provided by UNESCO. Placing the responsibility on parents through the PTA, is bound to create inconsistencies in standards. At this time, there is no evidence to support the decision to reopen schools in Oyo State.

Without sounding political, the state government needs to take decisions based on professional advice that is aimed at protecting lives rather than popularity. A good government must take tough decisions at critical periods such as this. The disregard for advice such as that offered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) who proclaimed the COVId 19 a pandemic in March, contributed greatly to the loss of lives in our State to the deadly virus. We cannot afford another decision taken on the need for political popularity over protection of lives, particularly as it affects our children. It is better to abide on the side of caution.

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The curve of positive Covid19 test cases in Oyo has yet to flatten, talkless of decrease. Nations that have progressively reopened their schools did so after experiencing a steady decline in positive cases of covid19. In addition, there were no spikes in positive cases of covid 19 for a clear 25-30days, prior to reopening their schools. We have not reached that stage in Oyo State and there is no reason to engage in undue risk.

Nations such as Israel and France that reopened schools in the same fashion being proposed in Oyo, immediately experienced huge spikes in positive cases of covid 19 and had to indefinitely reshut affected schools. By then, hundreds of pupils had been infected. We cannot afford such in Oyo.

As a citizen of Oyo State, I am appealing to the State government to reconsider its decision on reopening of schools and not subject our children to undue exposure to the deadly virus. Our schools can reopen once our State shows a decline in positive Covid19 cases. At that time, the state government should also advance clear protocols to which schools must abide after reopening.
These include protocol on hygiene, self distancing and community support for contact tracing.

The statement credited to the Governor that “should there be an explosion in the number of cases, the State Govt would intensify enlightenment campaign to ensure safety of our people”, is a clear case of putting the cart before the horse. Nearly 4 months into this Pandemic, we continue to record high positive cases as published by the Governor daily. Our enlightenment campaign should be in full gear now.

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A provisional gradual resumption date of September allows the State to prepare and put adequate protocols in place.

In the meantime, the State Government should engage proprietors of private schools on how best to minimise the huge losses they have incurred and may even incur after resumption. They are in dire need of support.

To my fellow citizens of Oyo state, I say, the risk of Covid19 is very real and people continue to die on a daily basis. We need to abide by expert advice, including washing hands regularly, wearing facial masks, practicing social distancing, only engaging in essential outdoor activities and using modern technology, where available as the prefered means of interaction. We shall return to normal but not the normal of the past.

Sadly, we have entered the stage of Community Transmission where contact tracing is a major challenge. We cannot afford to compound the challenge.

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