Dubai: How will students spend their school days when classes reopen in September, considering that coronavirus is still ‘out there’?
Will it be safe to go to school? The answer is yes, officials and schools say – provided everyone follows the safety rules.
Those rules came in detail days ago in a circular from the authorities for Dubai private schools. It has almost 120 ‘protocols’ to follow at school.
Earlier this week, Gulf News was given access to the reopening precautions and preparations in place at GEMS Founders School in Al Barsha, Dubai.
Guided by Paul Slater, vice-president, Operations, Health, Safety and Environment, GEMS Education, the school is making sure no stone is left unturned.
Thermal scans at the entrance
No one can proceed inside the school without clearing thermal imaging cameras, which can scan 30 people per second at the entrance, ensuring a flow is maintained for more than 4,200 students. There is also a scanning station where students come in by bus, so they are screened before they step inside the school.
If someone has a temperature above 37.8 degrees Celsius, he or she will be re-directed to the school clinic, where the student will have to wait for a certain length of time, allowing the body to cool down naturally. The student will then be reassessed by the medical team and based on that, he or she will either be kept in for further treatment, or released into the school or sent home.
There are markings on the floor, constantly reminding students to maintain a two-metre distance. Some corridors and staircases will be one-way or have students move on either side at a safe distance.
Non-touch digital sanitiser dispensers are never too far away, and posters keep prompting all to use them.
Masks on all the time
Inside the classroom, students will sit at least 1.5 metres apart, meaning a class of 30 students normally will now be only have 15 at maximum. Masks will be kept on by the students, teachers and staff members at all times while in school (with a few exceptions at times, as mentioned in the protocols circular).
There will probably not be the see-through screens on desks that some schools in other countries have set up.
“We will ideally not have screens, we will rather do it through social-distancing measures,” Slater said.
Also, not all students will come in every day. “We will be operating a rotation model, which schools are currently working on with the regulators, in terms of putting their individual school plan together.
“The regulators are allowing some sort of flexibility in terms of how that’s going to look; it might be day-on day-off, two days off-two days on … Each school has to submit a plan and seek approval, and will be based on parents’ survey as well.”
Even at the courts there will be social distancing, room capacity ratios based on the sport, how many coaches and players should be in at a time. Colour-coded floor markings make it easy to wait responsibly before going in – for instance, stand on the blue dots for court one, the red ones for court two. Each side has hand sanitisers, and door-stops mean there really is no need to touch the doors.
Slater said: “There are going to be restrictions on anything with contact and we’re going to have to review certain activities. But yes, we’re going to encourage the students to get back into sports as much as we can. I think it’s very important; students need that for their well-being and for their mental health. So the sooner we can get the activities up and running safely, the better.”
No doubt, school will look and feel different in the new academic year.
“September is going to be very interesting, but one thing we can guarantee: GEMS will be 100 per cent ready for it,” Slater added.
Two doctors, four nurses
During school days, what happens if someone feels unwell? The team at the school clinic is at hand for any such scenario.
“We have a good team here, with two doctors and four nurses. The team also accommodates our dedicated support staff, who are responsible for cleaning the clinic only. They do not work in other areas of the school – this is to prevent cross-contamination,” said Dr Mirrah Agha Kandil, senior doctor with the GEMS Education Group.
The team will see one patient per health-care worker, with the clinic capacity limited to a maximum of 10 to 13 persons. This is to prevent overcrowding.
A sign notifies that it is entrance-only because there is an unidirectional passage. “We don’t want a person coming in from the opposite side, to prevent exchange of respiratory droplets,” Dr Kandil said.
To familiarise students with the process of being treated in the clinic, there is visible signage on entry that informs them: Step one involves having your temperature checked, step two involves remaining seated while you wait for the nurse – because “we don’t want people going in different directions in the clinic haphazardly” – and step three involves keeping your mask on at all times.
There is a signage at the entrance informing everyone who enters that the clinic is compliant with the guidelines recommended by Dubai Health Authority and the World Health Organisation.
The medical team will wear facial coverings/masks and disposable gloves, and practise social distancing.
“We sanitise and disinfect between each patient, so our staff use a separate and fresh pair of Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] before a new patient comes in. This is very important to prevent spread and cross-contamination and is the reason why we maintain a strict ratio of one health-care worker to one student at any given time,” Dr Kandil said.
As patients enter, they are requested to have a seat in the triage area/temperature bay. Triage means this is where the nurse will check the patient’s temperature on entry and assess whether they fall into the category of infectious/non-infectious/injury, and whether the illness or injury is mild/moderate or severe. Treatment is then offered accordingly.
If a patient is deemed infectious, the nurse will immediately isolate the patient and accompany him or her to the isolation room.
(For non-infectious cases, the patient will be accompanied to the area dedicated to the treatment of cases that are considered non-infectious. Both rooms are separate from one another).
“If you have a fever and or symptoms of respiratory/infectious illness, we initiate a different protocol for you. We have non-touch thermometers, sterilising wipes, disposable masks, disposable gloves and gowns – everything that we need to keep the patient and staff safe. These are in ample supply and present at our triage station and throughout our clinic. Our aim is to make sure that every student/staff member that is provided first aid is also given a mask to wear if they are not already wearing one. [Exemptions are taken into consideration.]”
The student will be accompanied by a health-care worker in full PPE, and this entire set of PPE will be changed between each student. As you go in, there is a hazard sign on the door of the isolation room to alert you that this is the isolation room. The room is clearly marked and entry is only permitted to authorised staff. The door of this room remains closed to offer privacy and prevent spreadof thr virus.
“We have emergency supplies and equipment that belong to the isolation room. These are not used anywhere else in the clinic and are mostly disposable. The sheets used are impermeable and disposable – they are changed between each patient and a log of all daily sanitisation and those between patients is maintained,” she added.
The chairs here are all marked to be two metres apart, separated by medical-grade physical barriers between students who are waiting. Students will have masks on while they wait and there are signages everywhere, reminding them to be mindful of this.
The staff workstations have all been spaced two metres apart to ensure the safety of health-care workers.
What happens when a child just has a headache, for example, and the team has informed the parents and they want to come and pick up the child?
“Well, we won’t ask them to wait here in the main area, because we are keeping an unidirectional flow and want to minimise their exposure to germs. So we will go towards our exit area. We have a waiting area for students who are not considered infectious and will be collected by their parents, if advised. We have shields that act as physical barriers between students to prevent any fomites and cross-transmission,” Dr Kandil said.
Students who have been discharged and given the dismissal to go to class, will follow the direction marked by a red arrow to the left of the exit. Again, there is a reminder to practise hand hygiene as you leave and a non-touch hand sanitiser is placed here.
“This is how we ensure segregation of different patient groups and mitigate the risk of close contact and cross-infection as much as possible.”