Amidst the Spread of Coronavirus, Should the Philippines Close Its Schools?

The mayor of Navotas in the Philippines actually suggested not just a closure but the granting of passing grades to all students for the current school year. The end of the school year in the Philippines is April 3, about a month from now. Navotas has no recorded case of coronavirus infection so the suggestion is part of a preventive measure. Italy and Japan have closed schools but these countries have far more known cases than the Philippines does. Whether school closures are beneficial or not is an important question to raise. In the Philippines where online learning is not accessible to all, education pays a hefty price if schools are closed. Experts provide some specific guidelines on when it may be good to close schools: If five percent of students are absent in one day, it maybe wise to close schools. The point here is that it should be clear that there is an active transmission of the disease in the community, therefore, it is not a decision that should be taken lightly. In this case, it is clearly not warranted at this point.

Above copied from the Manila Bulletin

The statistics on coronavirus is quite sketchy at this point due to several factors. Some countries like the United States have not been diligent in testing possible cases so it is likely that the number of cases is actually much higher than reported. This has an effect of inflating the fatality rate. The following data, for instance, illustrate that the percent fatality varies wildly between regions:

Above copied from
Worldometers

In China, the percent death ((Total deaths/Total cases) X 100%) is 3.8%, while in South Korea, the percent death is only 0.7%. The Diamond Princess is perhaps a good data point since this is one case where the number of cases is much more reliable, and with this particular point, the percent death is 0.9%.  The United States currently with its low number of cases but relatively high number of deaths is at 4.8%. At this time, there are only a handful known cases in the Philippines with one death, which amounts to 20%. One can guess at this point that the Philippines probably is missing a lot of cases. With one death and a fatality rate of 1%, the Philippines should have 100 cases.

Philippines' coronavirus cases (March 6, 2020)
Above copied from Statista

Closing schools can help slow down the spread of a disease if transmission is indeed occurring inside the classrooms. There is currently no evidence that this is happening.

A common guideline at this time is for school officials to keep themselves informed by local health officials. The classroom is also an ideal place to teach children how to keep safe during this time. The spread of coronavirus can be slowed down by proper hygiene. We are told to wash our hands. We are told to keep door knobs sanitized. We are told to avoid touching our face. We are told to stay at home if we are not feeling well. These are very good measures indeed and at this point, if implemented, can possibly halt the spread of this novel coronavirus. Like other known coronaviruses, 2019 nCoV (the virus from Wuhan, China) uses the angiotensin-converting enzyme II (ACE2) as its cell receptor. With this information, it is highly likely that the most common entry of this virus is through our mouth since our oral cavity contains cells that have this receptor. ACE2 is also found in our lungs explaining why conronaviruses infect the lower respiratory system. With this in mind, sanitation in school cafeteria is key. We should be told not to put things in our mouth like a pencil or ballpen. Smokers have been found to have higher ACE2 expression suggesting that smokers may be more susceptible to nCoV infection.

It is clear that proper hygiene can help in slowing down the spread of nCoV. There is, however, no evidence that school closings could.



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