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Kenyan Union Says COVID-19 in Schools Putting Teachers at Risk

Schoolchildren have their temperature taken as they arrive at the Olympic Primary School in Kibera, one of the capital Nairobi's poorest areas in Kenya, Oct. 12, 2020.

A Kenyan teachers union is calling on the government to give guidance to older teachers and those suffering from chronic diseases after 35 teachers and 17 students tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week and two teachers died. The call comes a day after Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta hinted he might re-introduce restrictions after a jump in confirmed daily infections.

The partial reopening of schools in Kenya enters its fourth week, and at least 35 schools across the country have reported positive coronavirus cases.

Tomkins Baraza, who teaches Swahili and history at the Nakuru high school, said teachers fear for their lives.

“It’s a very big worry for teachers now that most of the learners are asymptomatic. So, you don’t know who is having it. If we have mass testing for students in all schools, in all schools, at least you will find some students having coronavirus disease,” said Baraza.

Baraza’s school is using twelve classes instead of six to limit the spread of the virus and has yet to report a positive case.

Kenya has recorded a growing number of COVID-19 positive cases in recent weeks, and the surge is blamed on the easing of restrictions meant to combat the spread of the virus.

Medical staff dressed in protective suits treat coronavirus disease patients at the COVID-19 ICU of Machakos Level 5 Hospital, in Machakos, Kenya, Oct. 28, 2020.
Medical staff dressed in protective suits treat coronavirus disease patients at the COVID-19 ICU of Machakos Level 5 Hospital, in Machakos, Kenya, Oct. 28, 2020.

Speaking to reporters Monday from the coastal town of Malindi, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe, said 14 of every 100 people tested nationwide turned out to be positive for coronavirus.

“In positivity rate lately, we are at 18% this last Saturday. Yesterday our positivity rate was 15%, and today we are heading not far from that direction. For the last one week, we have seen close to 100 deaths which is the highest number we have ever witnessed since our first confirmed case in March,” said Kagwe.

Among the deaths reported last week was a secondary school headteacher in Mombasa, and the school remains closed.

Kenya has recorded at least 56,000 coronavirus cases and more than 1,000 deaths.

Isaac Masenge, an official with the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers in Nairobi, said the union is concerned about teachers’ exposure.

"... [R]emember in day schools children are coming from home intermingling with people from matatus and you can see the multiplier effect they can cause in school especially to the old teachers and other teachers with other ailments. Currently as we are moving forward, the schools are also being hit and we need proper communiqué from the national office together with the employer to give way forward the issue of teachers with conditions and teachers who are 55 years and above,” said Masenge.

Our attempts to reach officials at the teachers service commission, a state body tasked with managing the hiring and deployment of Kenya's teachers, were unsuccessful.

Some critics have been calling for renewed school closures to shield the teachers and students. But the ministry of education insists that children are safe in schools and that learning will go uninterrupted.