The ‘COVID-19 bubble’ burst in the Cayman Islands this fall, with the country experiencing its first true community spread of the virus since the pandemic began.
However, the territory’s exceptionally high vaccination rate, along with policies such as mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing and rapid-response testing, have allowed Cayman’s schools to remain open for in-person learning through the current school year.
While individual schools have had to grapple with staff and student absences during the current wave of the Omicron variant, there has been no public discussion of potentially closing schools or shifting to online learning during the Spring semester.
As it has been throughout the pandemic, the experience in our territory has been the exception rather than the rule, compared to countries that are near Cayman geographically, or with whom Cayman has close ties.
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Out of the larger jurisdictions we’re looking at, Cuba has had the most success in terms of minimising COVID cases and deaths – although the country has experienced more than 4 times the number of deaths than Cayman has.
While Cuba was largely spared from the initial strains of COVID, the country was impacted greatly in the second half of 2021 by the Delta wave, which caused the country’s first real spike in cases and deaths.
Cuba initially had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world because the country decided to develop its own vaccines rather than importing foreign-made ones. In the second half of 2021, Cuba rapidly became one of the most-vaccinated countries in the world, including vaccinating children as young as 2 years old. It is the only country on the list with a higher full vaccination rate than Cayman.
Cuba has also carried out an aggressive booster campaign against the Omicron variant.
Cuba has maintained strict COVID restrictions on mask-wearing and public gatherings throughout the pandemic and recently imposed proof of recent negative PCR tests for incoming travellers.
After being closed since January, most schools in Cuba reopened in November. Officials are aiming to keep students in school through the current Omicron wave.
British Virgin Islands
Through the first 18 months of the pandemic, BVI maintained similar restrictions on travel as Cayman has and, overall had a similarly low level of cases and deaths. However, after the territory loosened restrictions on incoming tourists (including testing and quarantines), there was a large spike in cases and deaths in the summer of 2021.
Per capita, BVI has had nearly 8 times as many deaths from COVID as Cayman.
BVI schools had reopened in January 2021, and campuses stayed open through the fall semester. However, officials decided to shift to virtual learning for the term beginning January 2022.
Officials are looking at implementing rapid testing in schools in order to return to face-to-face learning.
Jamaica has experienced about 5 times the number of COVID deaths per capita than Cayman. It has the lowest vaccination rate on our list, at 20%.
Jamaica’s education system has been plagued by disruptions to face-to-face classes, issues with digital access, illness and extremely high rates of absenteeism among students.
As of last week, the government estimated it had been able to reopen 60% of schools.
Bermuda has experienced more than 10 times the number of COVID deaths per capita than Cayman.
Public schools started off the Fall 2021 semester with virtual learning, with physical campuses reopening in October. The government has rolled out a weekly saliva testing programme in schools.
Reportedly, issues including staff shortages at the government testing laboratory caused delays in students receiving test results, resulting in ‘mass absenteeism’ and some schools not reopening as scheduled to start the term in January 2022.
Recently, the territory’s teachers’ union blasted the government for the ‘massively botched’ reopening plan.
Canada has also experienced about 5 times the number of COVID deaths per capita than Cayman. Its current vaccination rate is relatively high and on this list lags only behind Cuba and Cayman.
Different provinces in Canada have approached education during the pandemic in different ways.
Some schools began the January 2022 term with in-person learning, while others started with remote learning.
The general goal is for schools in all provinces to reopen physically by 17 Jan., but online learning could be extended due to the Omicron outbreak.
The State of Texas has experienced more than 15 times the number of COVID deaths per capita than Cayman.
The response to COVID in Texas varies by city, school district or individual facility. Most schools remained open in the Fall 2021 semester, and many schools in smaller districts did not have virtual learning as an option after the state government withdrew funding for students attending school remotely.
Recently, many schools have been grappling with issues, such as staff shortages, due to an ongoing spike in Omicron cases.
The State of Florida has experienced more than 17 times the number of COVID 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.
In November 2021, a state law was enacted that prevents public schools from mandating that children wear masks in school.
The Omicron wave prevented many students and staff from returning to school at the beginning of the January 2022 term. Just in the Miami area, the number of absences was more than 100,000 people.
The State of New York was hit hard early in the COVID pandemic, but its overall COVID death rate has since fallen closer to rates in states such as Texas and Florida. New York has experienced more than 18 times as many COVID deaths per capita than Cayman.
After schools had been closed for the 2020-21 school year, state officials have been firm on keeping in-person learning in place this year.
However, the Omicron wave has caused many staff absences and forced many individual students back into remote learning. Recently, a group of lawmakers have pressed new New York City Mayor Eric Adams to offer virtual learning as an option for 2 weeks. Adams recently vowed to keep schools open during the pandemic.
The UK has experienced more than 13 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
Schools have mostly remained open during this school year. Officials have implemented regular rapid test screening of students and staff.
The Omicron wave has resulted in severe staff shortages to begin the January 2022 term, with some secondary schools moving to online learning.
Reportedly, one proposal to deal with staff shortages is to temporarily suspend specialist subjects such as music.