Dr S. F. Gyasi, Senior Lecturer in Microbiology writes….
SARS CoV 2 which started as an outbreak in Wuhan Province in China in December 2019 and later became a pandemic at the latter part of January 2020 has ravaged the world with its devastating effects on economies and health systems world-wide. As of today, 19th of January 2021, the Global Webometric Report shows that 96,009,891 cases have been reported with 2,049,348 deaths and 68,630,134 recoveries. Currently, there are 25,330,409 active cases globally with 25,218,341 mild cases (99.6%) and 112,068 serious or critical cases (0.4%). Presently, Ghana has recorded 58,065 positive cases with 55,789 amazing recoveries. Until now, Ghana has been doing very well with its COVID 19 active cases falling below 500. But at the turn of the 2021 new year, there has been a sharp rise of Ghana’s COVID 19 active cases to 1,924 with 352 unfortunate deaths.
It is against this backdrop of rising numbers that many concerns are being raised as to whether the timing of reopening of schools from kindergarten to the Universities is the right call. This is a genuine concern especially so when children below the ages of 6-10 are involved. I have reported in my earlier write-ups on SARS COV 2 infections that when restrictions are put in place, the rate of transmission is slowed down so epidemiologists and microbiologists can understand the dynamics of disease transmission in a given geographical area. With the removal of the restrictions after the greater Accra and Greater Kumasi lockdowns, there has been more mixing of people habouring the virus in the general population which has enhanced community transmission. At the moment, Ghana is experiencing a very high community transmission of SARS CoV 2. This is as a result of the non-adherence to the safety protocols (i.e., not wearing face mask at public places, unofficial opening of beaches, pubs, night clubs etc) during the just ended electioneering campaigns in Ghana, subsequent victory celebrations and the Christmas festivities.
From the data obtained earlier by the Ghana Health Service since April 2020, it was predicted that, 90-91% of all COVID 19 cases will by asymptomatic with about 6% becoming mild to moderately ill. The remaining 2-3% were also predicted to become seriously or critically ill and will require hospitalization. Until today, this trend has not changed. It was on this premise that the government was advised to open a lot more isolation and treatment centers to cater for the vulnerable groups who will be critically ill and need hospitalization to control our rate of mortality. Unfortunately, the capacity of our isolation centers is still not adequate, creating the impression that our health systems are being overwhelmed looking at the rate of community transmission.
In spite of these, the decision by the Government to reopen schools is the right call especially so when we have decided to confront the virus head on. We cannot be under restrictions for ever because of the psychosocial and psychosomatic implications of these lock downs in addition to the huge financial burden it places on the public purse. In addition, there must be efforts to normalize our lives and not jeopardize the educational future of the younger generation after nearly 9 months of school closure. This decision to reopen schools is even more relevant when we consider the number of people dying on our roads daily through vehicle accidents, malaria and other infections compared to the number of people unfortunately dying out of COVID.
As of today, data around the world suggest that, people below the age of 25 have relative reduced risk of dying out of SARS COV 2. Although, these cohort of individuals could be exposed to the COVID 19 virus, majority will recover on their own immunity without showing symptoms and may have reduced risk of transmission except in pre-symptomatic cases. These kids (from kindergarten to University) may not be harmed directly by the SARS COV 2 virus (especially when all the COVID 19 safety protocols are strictly adhered to by school officials). However, the few pre-symptomatic carriers can transmit the virus to their vulnerable care-givers and the results could be detrimental.
The caution here is also the emergence of new variants of the virus including the new England and South African strains whose virulence are yet to be fully investigated. That is why the next 2 weeks following the full reopening of schools will be very critical. If we do not experience a major hike in numbers as school reopens, then we as a country will be making a lot of progress.
As a people, what MUST we do?
- We must not panic but continue to adhere to all the COVID 19 safety protocols as directed by the Ghana Health Service (i.e., the wearing of face mask at all times, washing our hands with soap and clean water, the use of alcohol-based sanitizers, adhering to social/physical distancing etc)
- Always treat your kids returning from school as potential fomites which means they can harbour remnants of the virus on their body, clothes and or school bags. Please ensure kids returning immediately from school take their bath and dry their clothes and school bags in the sun.
- Engage in regular exercise, at least 3 times a week
- Have regular steam inhalation sessions from time to time
- Avoid taking cold drinks and stick to regular hot beverages
- Engage in exercises that reduce one’s stress level as much as possible
- Eat right with fruits and drink a lot of water
- Engage in any other activity that will improve one’s immunity.
Until majority of the Ghanaian population is vaccinated, we must not lose our guards in our individual efforts to stay safe in order to break the chain of transmission.
Dr Samuel Fosu Gyasi
Snr Lecturer in Microbiology
University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR)