Although this week began the return to face-to-face classes in different communes of the country, There is still debate regarding at what stage of the Step by Step plan it is pertinent to open schools. Although the discussion on the date and modality continues until now, during the development of the pandemic different criteria were defined to follow for the imminent return of the classrooms.
In November of last year, the Covid-19 Advisory Council prepared a minute with recommendations for the re-entry of students to their respective schools, thus, in the document they bet on “A gradual, flexible and voluntary reopening of student attendance at their establishments in communes in Phase 4 (Initial Opening) and Phase 5 (Advanced Opening)”.
Also, the document mentioned that at the initial opening threshold in Phase 4 a percentage of positivity must be less than 4%, the incidence of cases must be under five cases per 100,000 inhabitants and the occupancy of ICU beds at the regional level must be less than 85%, among others.
The minutes of the advisory council also stipulated that “If there are schools that request to open and the commune is in Phase 3, it must have the authorization of Health”. This aspect of the document was modified on December 3 of last year, when the Ministry of Health issued a resolution clarifying that in a commune in Phase 3, 4 or 5 of the Step by Step plan “Kindergarten, basic and secondary education establishments are allowed to operate. If a locality regresses to Phase 2, the authorization will be maintained “. Until that announcement, a commune in Phase 2 could not have face-to-face classes in their schools.
Regarding the positivity rate of each commune, according to the figures published in the reports of Testing and Traceability Indicators, which are delivered weekly by the Department of Epidemiology of the Ministry of Health (Minsal), until February 22, only 13% of the communes had a positivity rate of less than 4%.
Thus, of the 346 communes in all of Chile, only 45 of them meet the percentage of positivity recommended by the advisory council to return to classes. Among those with the lowest numbers, considering the number of inhabitants, stand out Calera (4%), La Cruz (2.7%), Quillota (3.6%), San Felipe (3.4%), Vitacura ( 3.5%) and Cauquenes (3.8%).
On the other hand, there are 214 communes throughout the country whose positivity rate exceeds 8%: Alto Hospicio (10.1%), Coquimbo (9.7%), Puente Alto (9.4%), Santiago (8.7%), among others. As well, 87 communes have a percentage of positivity that varies between 4% and 8%. The figures indicate that, in total, almost one in 10 communes would have the appropriate percentage of positivity to return to face-to-face classes, according to the recommendations of the experts. In regions, Valparaíso (13.2%), Iquique (12%), Los Angeles (12%), Concepción (10.6%), Talca (10.5%) also stand out ”.
However, the current levels of positivity in some municipalities could be even higher. That would be the case of San José de Maipo, a commune that, according to the Minsal report of February 22, would have 8.2% positivity. However, according to figures compiled by the municipality’s hospital complex, “We have a positivity rate of 12.4% to date”, declares Mayor Luis Pezoa. For this reason, the mayor explains that the return to schools in his commune “has been very gradual and very conscientious among parents and teachers.” Likewise, “if an attorney-in-fact decides that their child attends classes for Zoom You can do it too ”, he adds.
Ernesto Laval, specialist in data visualization, also performed the analysis of these figures, taking as a parameter the information with the recommendation of positivity from the advisory board.
The expert comments that not only the viral load should be considered, since “if few tests are done, the incidence rate can be lowered artificially. This is combined with the positivity, which according to the November minutes, must be under 4% to open a school. Today, Chile rose 8%, we had not had that number since August, which means that we are high and we continue to rise ”.
New epidemiological suggestions
For his part, the infectologist Pablo Vial, a member of the Covid-19 Advisory Council, establishes that “regarding what epidemiological conditions to present when the parameters of Phase 3 are met, it has been appropriate to open face-to-face activities in schools and see there how the transmission behaves. In most of the places where classes have been returned to classes in the world, this has not been significant in the epidemiological behavior of the infection”.
Thus, the epidemiologist Ximena Aguilera, President of the instance, explained that the pertinent meetings are already being held with the council to define possible changes to these recommendations: “We were looking at it last week, and what happens is that this was in a context where there was not yet, for example, the possibility of vaccinating. The Minister of Education had asked us for this recommendation, which we should update now ”.
In turn, the infectologist and academic from the University of Chile Claudia Cortés emphasizes that “It is important that children go back to school, but it is worse to have a third outbreak”, and adds that “we have to allow time for the vaccination to be more massive and for at least the teachers to be vaccinated with their two doses to be able to consider a return to classes rather in person”.
The epidemiologist and biostatistician from the University of Chile Gabriel Cavada explains that when the advisory council published its recommendations on returning to face-to-face classes in November, “there were serious doubts that the vaccination speed we are looking at today would be achieved “.
Cavada says that there was “a change of perspective” and that the immunization of teachers was prioritized as a requirement for returning to school. Although “positivity is still very high,” emphasizes the doctor, thanks to the national vaccination campaign, “If we get to have a wave of asymptomatic or mild infections, the positivity will go through the roof., but with the difference that that high positivity will be a lot less fatal than what we were used to looking at “he adds.