The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued new guidelines to take care of children at home and in schools from transmission of the COVID-19 virus with critical considerations and practical checklists and also advised national and local authorities on how to adapt and implement emergency plans for educational facilities.
Issued jointly with the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and UNICEF, the guidelines stated that in case of school closures efforts be taken to mitigate against the possible negative impacts on children’s learning and health, including plans in place to ensure the continuity of learning, including remote learning options such as online education strategies and radio broadcasts of academic content, and access to essential services for all children.
If schools remain open, the guidance calls for:
- Providing children with information about how to protect themselves;
- Promoting best handwashing and hygiene practices and providing hygiene supplies;
- Cleaning and disinfecting school buildings, especially water and sanitation facilities; and
- Increasing airflow and ventilation.
The guidance, while specific to countries that have already confirmed the transmission of COVID-19, is still relevant in all other contexts. Education can encourage students to become advocates for disease prevention and control at home, in school, and in their community by talking to others about how to prevent the spread of viruses. Maintaining safe school operations or reopening schools after a closure, requires many considerations, but if done well, can promote public health.
For example, safe school guidelines implemented in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone during the outbreak of Ebola virus disease from 2014 to 2016 helped prevent school-based transmissions of the virus.
UNICEF is urging schools – whether open or helping students through remote learning – to provide students with holistic support. Schools should provide children with vital information on handwashing and other measures to protect themselves and their families; facilitate mental health support; and help to prevent stigma and discrimination by encouraging students to be kind to each other and avoid stereotypes when talking about the virus.
The new guidance also offers helpful tips and checklists for parents and caregivers, as well as children and students themselves. These actions include:
- Monitoring children’s health and keeping them home from school if they are ill;
- Encouraging children to ask questions and express their concerns; and
- Coughing or sneezing into a tissue and avoid touching face, eyes, mouth and nose.