School Covid-19 Cases: A Penang Perspective — Boo Soon Yew

More often than not, an isolated single case would mean the Covid-19 infection was acquired not from the school, and that’s where diligent contact tracing is crucial.

We are now in May 2021, one year from the implementation of the first movement control order (MCO). Schools have closed, reopened, closed, reopened, and are now on the verge of closing again. Cases among students and teachers have increased steadily as schools last reopened on April 5.

In Penang, concern is acute among parents, especially when children in primary schools and kindergartens are affected. 

We need to look at case numbers as a whole before drilling down to specific school cases or school clusters.

Since the announcement of the first education cluster, Teluk Air Tawar on March 20, quickly followed by the second education cluster, Bukit Tambun on March 21, it has not been difficult to connect the dots.

Speculation has been rife about prevalent school cases, and coupled with the Ministry of Health’s description of the clusters, one can do a quick Google Map search from the given locations, and you will know the schools affected are Kolej Vokasional Butterworth and SRJK (C) Keng Koon respectively.

Yet, bear in mind that schools only reopened from April 5 onwards. Hence, these would have been contained cases, which was soon proven to be true as these two are now officially considered as kluster tamat, with 36 and 16 cases respectively.

After these two early clusters, there would be four more education clusters to come, namely Jalan Teluk Kumbar, announced on April 1 (kluster tamat with 16 cases), Jalan Padang Lalang, announced on April 20 (with nine cases), Jalan Sungai Daun, announced on April 23 (with 17 cases) and Cangkat Minden, announced on April 27 (with 22 cases).

Parents, teachers and the community at large have reason to fear when we read of “20 schools closed” or “29 schools closed”. Are things really that bad at these schools?

There has been a list of schools affected making its rounds on social media, with the last count was showing 255 cases on April 29. But don’t forget that it is a cumulative list dating from late March, when we only had the Kolej Vokasional Butterworth and SRJK (C) Keng Koon cases.

Another piece of data to consider is the total cumulative cases in Penang from March 19 (one day before the Teluk Air Tawar cluster was announced) which was initially 14,104, increasing to 20,445 on May 4. That makes for an increase of 6,341 cases in Penang for the past six weeks.

The 255 would make up four per cent, and the ones that are officially considered part of the six education clusters so far in Penang make up 116 or 1.8 per cent.

Admittedly, in that circulated list of schools, there were many others mentioned which would make the remaining 2.2 per cent (comprising 139 students and teachers), with the majority having one isolated case from any school mentioned.

So what cases should we be concerned about? Going back to the period from March 19 to April 5, besides the six education clusters, there were also 20 other clusters in Penang, mainly originating in workplaces. They total 2,930 as of April 5, which is very much short of the total 6,341 cases.

That means 3,411 cases are not part of any official cluster. That’s 53.8 per cent of infections unlinked. We should be worried about this.

School cases are significant when we see many cases from the same school, even more so if they are from the same class. Yet, more often than not, an isolated single case would mean infection acquired not from the school, and this is where diligent contact tracing is crucial.

We are now migrating to online classes when the Hari Raya holiday comes around next week, and this will go on until June 13. What will happen after that is still unknown.

Nevertheless, one thing is certain: we must never let our guard down. Continue masking and social distancing, plus washing our hands regularly. The hashtag #KitaJagaKita holds fast, and may it lead us safely through the coming holidays.

Selamat Berpuasa and Selamat Hari Raya wishes to all !!

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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