US experts: Wear masks, practise distancing in Cayman schools

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Considering the Cayman Islands went more than a month without recording a single positive COVID-19 test result, some parents are questioning whether it should be necessary for young students to wear masks and follow other strict guidelines when they return to local schools. The answer, according to two public health experts in the US, is ‘Yes’.

“Even though Cayman appears to have a low rate of COVID, that still does not mean that COVID is not circulating in the community since we know that asymptomatic individuals can transmit the disease,” said Dr. Tina Tan, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

On Wednesday, the Cayman government announced that two arriving travelers had tested positive for COVID, breaking a streak of 100% negative tests that had lasted since 13 July.

Dr. Tan, along with Sara B. Johnson, a pediatrics professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the Cayman Current they support measures such as those being mandated by Cayman authorities, including spacing apart classroom desks, requiring mask-wearing by students and faculty, and encouraging good hand hygiene.

Dr. John Lee, Cayman’s chief medical officer, said in a news release earlier this week that students would have to wear masks indoors unless they are sitting silently. “There is a higher chance of airborne transmission of the COVID-19 virus while students are talking, especially in enclosed spaces such as classrooms,” he said.

As of Thursday morning, more than 800 people had signed a petition asking that Cayman’s government remove the requirement that children wear masks in schools.

Johnson acknowledged the inconveniences caused by enforcing social distancing practices in schools: “There are, of course, important trade-offs when we have to alter schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Spacing and distancing do reduce developmentally important social interaction and make some aspects of teaching logistically more complicated and challenging.”

She continued, “That said, given asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19, these measures are the best way to keep children, staff and teachers safe and in school, particularly as we are just re-opening schools. Getting kids back to school safely is so critical for kids, families, and communities.”

Dr. Tan said, “Maintaining strict public health measures is critical to ensure that you don’t have an outbreak in a school and to ensure the safety of the students and the teachers.”

She said, “in my opinion there are no disadvantages of these public health actions.”

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