The head of a school where a student tested positive for COVID-19 is urging the public not to panic, stressing that safety protocols in place are proving to be effective in dealing with these situations.
“I just have to make it clear that there is no need to panic. This is a situation that will happen in many schools. It was never a matter of if but when.
“So long as there are the protocols in place and they are being observed, everything will run smoothly,” Sue Midolo, head of St Catherine’s High School, in Pembroke, said.
“In our case, it was a very smooth experience. The health authorities were impeccable – they spent the entire weekend handholding us and our students’ parents,” she added.
Her message comes as state and church school children begin returning to class on Wednesday, for the first time since March.
Last week, the first schools started reopening after being closed since March to contain the spread of the virus. The remaining schools will open their doors this week, following a one-week delay requested by the Malta Union of Teachers.
Meanwhile, over the past days, rumours about positive cases of coronavirus in schools started spreading. While some were ruled out as mere speculation, others were true and involved teachers in schools that were not yet open to students.
The health authorities said that seven educators and one student had tested positive for COVID-19 between Sunday and Monday.
Times of Malta contacted the Education Ministry to obtain more details about the way forward and understand whether this will impact schools or classrooms about to reopen. However, no replies were received by the time of writing.
The case reported at St Catherine’s High School was a senior student.
Midolo confirmed this, adding: “We have adopted a policy of transparency while respecting the privacy of individuals concerned.
“I must stress there is no shame in this… we had strict protocols and measures in place and we adhered to them. Our students and all educators are wearing face masks all the time in class and maintaining physical distancing.”
Midolo explained that the infected student had attended the first day of school last Wednesday and started exhibiting symptoms that same evening.
“This showed that the virus was not contracted from the school as symptoms would have shown up later due to the incubation period,” she said.
The student did not attend school after that. Students and teachers in the same bubble with the student were contacted and informed about the situation.
The health authorities intervened and informed classmates in close proximity to the infected student that they would have to go into quarantine, together with family members who lived in the same household. This amounted to about 10 students (plus five siblings).
No teachers were requested to go into mandatory quarantine.
Meanwhile, the Maltese Association of Parents of State School Students said that in such cases the authorities and the administration of the schools where positive cases had been reported should communicate immediately and directly to parents to explain contingency plans they had in place.
It stressed the importance of having logistics in place to proceed with online learning in such cases and that also catered for vulnerable students.