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Considerations and Strategies to Mitigate the Impact of COVID-19 at International Schools


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AdobeStock_277651608.thumb.jpeg.bae826e1fb4dca45e867a9873dcf13ef.jpegIntroduction

COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future and its impact on international schools will continue. The virus itself is evolving, the science related to the virus, to vaccines, and to testing is also evolving. Although the pandemic is global, mitigation of the impact of the virus needs to be managed at a school and local level.

A current understanding of the situation with the virus will enable schools to implement up to date mitigation strategies. These strategies should incorporate vaccinations, screening, process and procedures as well as communications. 

Our Panel on April 15th included:

  • Dr David Teo – Regional Medical Director, Asia for International SOS
  • Colin Brown – Founder Nex.D, COO Skoolbo, Edtech investor
  • Andrew Duffield, Group Health and Safety Director, International Schools Partnership (ISP)

Our expert panel shared insights to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 at International Schools as a framework. Key points include:

  • Need to be aware of the status of the pandemic in the local community
  • Use of screening tools and procedures will remain an important component
  • A policy on vaccinations will be important, including requirements and verification.
  • Schools need to have a plan to shield their vulnerable / non-vaccinated population
  • Integrated communication strategy is vital to ensure clarity and secure trust at your school

You will find further details below on the Mitigation Framework.

Background

  • Virus – it continues to evolve
  • New waves can be expected into 2022
    • Children are increasingly infected and symptomatic
    • 11.2% of cases in USA in 2021
    • 5 Times more likely to be admitted to hospital in India in 2021
    • 50% of children in India in one study had antibodies
  • Mutations
    • Reason for new flu vaccines annually is due to mutations
      • Every 50K cases, going to get a mutation
      • Impact of a mutation can be that the virus:
        • becomes more infectious
        • weakens and coexists with humans like the flu virus
        • kills the virus
      • The mutations of concern
        • those that become more infectious 
        • those less susceptible to anti-bodies, making current vaccines less effective 
  • Vaccines
    • Vaccine development was very fast and now new candidates are coming very quickly
    • Likely situation is that for the forceable future, boosters are likely necessary
    • None of the vaccines have 100% efficacy
    • You can still catch the virus when vaccinated, however it makes the symptoms less severe
    • Some protection is better than no protection
    • The best vaccine is the vaccine that you can get
    • You will always have a Non-vaccinated population
    • Currently for people 16 and above - By September / October possible down to 11 years of age 
  • Testing
    • RT-PCR and RT-LAMP
      • These tests have been around a long time with a demonstrated history
      • PCR tests are relatively slow and do not scale
      • Technology is coming now to automate and bring PCR testing closer to the consumer.
      • LAMP tests are faster and better suited for “point of care”
    • Countries are more likely to rely upon proven tests
    • Rapid tests (Lateral flow tests)
      • All new and have only be tested against COVID-19
      • Reliability is still now well known
      • Easier to scale
      • Before using these, it is important to understand the viral load within the community.
    • Antibody testing is still evolving, may not effectively address new mutations and as such may not be beneficial nor recognised in your country. Follow local guidance.
    • The evolution of testing is going to help countries to better understand the situation with the virus which may impact how schools address this.
  • Vaccination passports / status certification
    • Standardisation efforts are underway.
    • Many variations of a passport or COVID status certification exist
    • What is official should be based on local regulations
    • Digital is optimal as then this information can be easily verified by the school when needed – trips, use of facilities, bus access, etc.

Vaccine Considerations for International Schools

  • A vaccination strategy should be part of your schools Business Continuity Plan.
  • Those eligible for the vaccine should get the vaccine – consider vaccinating or requiring vaccinations for people who will visit your campus, but also consider the laws of your country as preventing access due to not being vaccinated could be considered discrimination – staff, contractors, parents and students that are eligible.
  • Verification of vaccinations may present a challenge due to the International the make-up of the school community – people are coming from various countries with different laws, different vaccines, different tools for verification. Local laws should form the basis and as above consideration needs to be given to local law so that you do not discriminate.
  • Remember to shield those who cannot be vaccinated – health issues, age, etc.

Mitigation framework for International Schools

  • Understanding the status
    • Be aware of the country’s situation in terms of the virus. Case levels will impact the benefit of testing and should influence your strategy.
    • Keep informed as to the progress of the pandemic - vaccines, testing, laws and other mitigation tools - these are changing and evolving quickly. 
    • Understand and follow local laws and regulations
    • Be aware of and leverage local resources – can increase the tools available to mitigate and lower your costs.
      • Consider use of testing and vaccination centres if they are near by
      • Check what funding might be available to the school from local governments
      • Access local information sources and consider how to share this information with your community (language and comprehension can be a concern).
      • Local resources and authorities - utilise where possible for testing, vaccinations, etc.
    • Recognise your school community is not likely well informed of the local situation and local laws. Although a simple concept, this is very important! Your parents and staff may get their guidance from their home country, their personal network and then share within your community.
    • Understand your countries laws around discrimination (what is permitted in respect of vaccinations etc.)
  • Screening
    • Contact-tracing - utilise tools such as an App or portal to capture information.  Who has been on campus, on the school bus, etc., You may need to review this after several days and as such a digital resource is optimal.
    • Self-reporting - your school should require some level of self-reporting.  The situation with the virus in the country will help dictate to what level.  ie, where high numbers of infections are present, a daily report may be necessary.  Where it is low, reporting on travel, etc., may be the priority,  Again consider the use of a digital tool such as an App or portal.
    • Testing - follow your local country's guidance on testing as a starting point.  A variety of models for testing exist depending on requirements for your school. For reliability, consider PCR or LAMP tests.  Pooling of tests is possible.  Testing is evolving so remain aware of the progress with testing technology.  
    • Temperature screening - Schools have indicated that this has not been overly effective however it is visible and establishes trust.
  • Vaccinations
    • Have a policy on vaccinations and communicate the policy clearly. Consider
      • A vaccination requirement – must meet your local legal requirements and limitations
      • Verification - this will be complex as certification varies from country to country.  Local law should be the basis for what you can accept.
  • Shielding
    • Consider who your shielding - your school will always have a vulnerable population (non-vaccinated due to health, age or other limitations)
    • Ongoing barriers should continue to be part of your shielding efforts such as social distancing, masks and hygiene tools
    • Disinfection gates are getting increased attention now and something that the school can consider 
  • Integrated Communications
    • An Integrated communications strategy needs to be part of your mitigation strategy - it is the tool you have to create confidence and to ensure clear understanding.
      • Communicate early, often and consistently
      • Should support buy-in and understanding
      • Be positive, encouraging and supportive.
      • Utilise your communications channels appropriately - website, email and a mobile app should all be part of your strategy
        • Website – regulations, process and procedures
        • Email – updates where documentation delivery and archiving are necessary
        • The mobile App should be a key component and be integrated to your varied school tools.
    • We would recommend the use of a School Compact
      • Must be signed by all members of the school community
      • Outlines school policies and regulations including explanations.
      • Be clear about what information is required, what information you will share and where you may be restricted (Privacy).
      • This will instil confidence and support.
      • It will also simplify enforcement

For those who participated in the live webinar, due to a technical problem our Chat function was disabled preventing questions from being asked.  Please post any questions you may have had on this site and we will respond.

Should you wish to get directly in contact with any of our expert resources, contact details are below:

International SOS – sin.marketing@internationalsos.com 

International Schools Partnership – aduffield@ispschools.com

Nex.D Partners – colin@nexd.partners 

Together School – kevin.lloyd@togetherschool.com

The actual recording can be found here - 
 

Meeting Recording:
https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/GCIHRZuZ77xWP9B8yB2TS4gec5me2qX8Tb_EkslDpOHYz_q9tdq82JCFptotGGRL.apglMQTYyQG0UTiY

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