The past school year in the Cayman Islands has been about as ‘normal’ as possible, as the country’s COVID-free environment has spared students, parents and teachers from onerous social distancing and mask requirements, or outright school closures.
Apart from a primary student testing ‘weakly’ positive for COVID in mid-October, resulting in a 2-week quarantine for some students and staff, Cayman’s return to in-person learning was uninterrupted throughout the school year.
Compared to countries that are near Cayman geographically, or with whom Cayman has close ties, the experience in our territory is the exception rather than the rule.
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Out of the larger jurisdictions we’re looking at, Cuba has had the most success in terms of minimising COVID-19 cases and deaths, although numbers have remained relatively high in 2021.
Cuba has one of the lowest vaccination rates on our list, primarily because the country decided not to import foreign vaccines, in favour of developing its own. Other than Brazil, Cuba is the only country in Latin America with a biotech sector capable of producing its own vaccines. According to recent announcements, two of Cuba’s vaccines have shown to be effective against COVID in late-stage clinical trials.
Cuba has maintained strict COVID restrictions on mask-wearing and public gatherings throughout the pandemic.
Most schools reopened in September, but a sharp increase in COVID cases beginning in January led authorities to close schools for the entire spring semester.
Overall, BVI’s COVID-19 cases and deaths have been nearly identical to Cayman’s, although its vaccination rate is currently less than half of Cayman’s.
BVI schools began to reopen at the beginning of the fall semester. By January, most students were back in the classroom, albeit with measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and hybrid learning models.
Recently, the territory loosened restrictions on incoming tourists, including eliminating testing and quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers.
Jamaica has experienced more than 10 times the number of COVID deaths per capita than Cayman. Only about 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID.
Disruptions to face-to-face classes, issues with digital access and illness have contributed to extremely high rates of absenteeism among students this year.
Recently the education minister announced intentions to hold a voluntary summer school programme to help students make up for the learning loss over the past year.
Bermuda has experienced more than 15 times the number of COVID deaths per capita than Cayman.
Schools reopened in September with public health mandates on masks, social distancing, testing, etc. Throughout the school year, clusters of COVID outbreaks have led to temporary school closures and quarantines.
The government has unrolled an array of summer education programmes to try to make up for learning loss.
Bermuda’s vaccination rate is nearly on par with that of Cayman.
Canada has experienced more than 20 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
Different provinces in Canada are approaching COVID-19 in different ways, as it relates to education. Schools across the country reopened in September.
Some provinces elected to close schools during outbreaks, while others (such as British Columbia) kept schools open while relying on measures such as mask-wearing and hand-washing.
A recent study of Vancouver educators suggests that the risk of COVID transmission isn’t any higher in schools than in the wider community.
The full vaccination rate in Canada is about one-third of Cayman’s.
The State of Texas has experienced about 60 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
The response to COVID in Texas varies by city, school district or individual facility. Some schools have remained open, while some students have had virtual learning all year.
With COVID cases peaking in the winter, about 150,000 of 3 million Texas students have tested positive for COVID this school year. About 73,000 of 800,000 staff tested positive.
The State of Florida has experienced more than 60 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
The response to COVID in Florida varies by county and school. The state’s priority was to keep schools open as much as possible.
More than 90,000 students tested positive for COVID this school year, in addition to more than 8,000 teachers.
The State of New York was hit hard early in the COVID pandemic, and has experienced nearly 100 times as many COVID deaths per capita than Cayman.
Throughout the year, many schools have been closed and students have had to fall back on virtual learning.
In late May, the governor of New York announced that if current trends hold, then all schools in the state could reopen fully in September.
The UK has experienced more than 60 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
Schools reopened in the fall for in-person instruction, with rules in place for masks, social distancing etc., and options for virtual learning.
A dramatic spike in COVID cases in the winter led to the closure of schools until March in England and April elsewhere in the UK.
Additionally, secondary school exams such as GCSEs and A-Levels were cancelled, with grades determined according to teacher assessments.
Further reading: A March 2021 report by McKinsey consultants surveys global responses to COVID, feelings about the effectiveness of online instruction, and estimates of learning gaps.