RIDGETOWN, Barbados – The Ministry of Health and Wellness has recommended that schools remain open despite the current surge in coronavirus cases.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anton Best, said schools were not major drivers of COVID-19 transmission in Barbados, emphasizing that serious outcomes from COVID 19 infections continue to be rare among school-aged children, particularly those three to 18 years old.
“Although we are in the midst of a COVID-19 surge with very high rates in Barbados, the Emergency Operations Centre, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has not advised on the introduction of any new public health and social measures such as curfew or lockdowns, and in that same vein, we are advising that schools remain open.
“[The] best available evidence suggests that the resumption of face-to-face school has been very safe with respect to the risk to children and to staff in terms of them acquiring COVID-19. School protocols are working, that is the take home message.… And one key point that I want to make is that schools must be regarded as essential services…” Dr. Best said.
He said that during the last school term between February 21 and April 8, just over 1,600 cases of the virus were recorded among school-aged children or about 60 cases per 1,000 school population over that period.
The Deputy CMO noted however that the rate of infection was slightly higher in primary school children compared to those in the secondary schools.
The cumulative incidence within primary schools was 17 cases per 1,000 population, while in secondary schools it was 14 per 1,000 population and Dr, Best said that the positivity rate in schools mirrored the positivity rate health officials were seeing in communities.
He said that the rate of infection among staff at schools is not a cause of concern for the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
“So far, we have no evidence of transmission happening in schools. And, that is a key point that I need to make about the roadmap that we developed. The roadmap that we are implementing with all of our partners is protecting not only the staff, but it’s protecting the students. And it’s helping keep the rates as low as possible in the communities. And the roadmap that I’m referring to is the roadmap for the resumption of face-to-face school in Barbados,” he stated.
Dr. Best said that over the last three weeks, Barbados recorded over 7,000 new cases of the viral illness, with the average age of a positive person being 36.
Additionally, the positivity rate, over a seven-day average, was 32 percent which he regarded as “very high”. He added that the seven-day moving average was 340 cases per day. The cumulative incidence over this same timeframe was 810 cases per 100,000 population which was well over the 500 per 100,000 population benchmark health officials prefer.
Dr. Best noted that while there have been 386 deaths since the start of the pandemic, the country’s case fatality rate was 0.6 percent – one of the lowest in the world.
He blamed the highly transmissible Omicron sub variant BA.2 which has been confirmed in Barbados for driving the number of cases being seen locally.