By Hugo Sanchez
San Salvador, Apr 6 (efe-epa).- El Salvador on Tuesday reopened classrooms in about 3,500 schools more than a year after they were closed, and teachers will focus their efforts over at least the next few days on attending to students’ mental health after months of lockdown apart from their friends and classmates.
Salvadoran authorities have resumed semi-in-person classes, where parents have the choice of sending their kids to school or not, and the moves comes as confirmed coronavirus cases in the densely populated Central American country stand at 65,491.
“We’ve set it up so that students, in the first week, are going to return to be attended to in terms of their psychoemotional health. Today, they’re not going to study math … (or) sciences … (or) any of that,” Education Minister Carla Hanania de Varela said.
She added that “this week is for personal evaluation and learning,” because “without mental health we can’t move forward normally” and the teachers have been trained in this area.
“The quarantine, all the pressures we’ve experienced during 2020, the grief, the same tension from the disease … has impacted on mental health and we must take care of the fundamental part of the human being,” Hanania de Varela said.
This week, the classrooms will be at 50 percent capacity, with part of the students still in the remote learning mode and the rest in class, but next week the other half of the student body will pursue the same course, the minister said.
Government figures indicate that the pandemic had taken 2,030 lives in El Salvador up through the end of last week, but the tallies from different municipalities provided to the Legislative Assembly and released by local media show that 5,563 people have been buried according to Covid-19 protocols since the start of the pandemic.
The Health Ministry says that one of the of the groups least affected so far by the pandemic is 10-19-year-olds, who make up a good portion of the national student body, with 2,309 cases having been registered among that cohort.
The education minister appealed to the students to exercise caution to prevent outbreaks of Covid-19 in the schools.
“Starting today, we have an individual responsibility, a personal responsibility and it’s up to us to make every day safe,” she emphasized.
She recalled that “On March 11, 2020, these doors were closed … and we’ve worked every day so that today you can return (to classes) safely.”
Hanania de Varela added that returning in person to the classrooms is optional and will be gradual and that students who decide not to return right away will be able to continue using the online study platforms on which they have relied in past months to continue their education.
Students who do opt to return to in-person classes will be monitored and if any begin showing symptoms of Covid-19 they will be taken to a medical center.
The government announced that it has acquired “more than 1,000 tons of biosecurity supplies” to equip the schools with thermometers, facemasks and isopropyl alcohol.
Health Minister Francisco Alabi said in a television interview on Tuesday that the program to vaccinate all the public school teachers who agreed to take the first dose had concluded and 13,300 teachers had been vaccinated.
The Salvadoran government is intending to immunize 4.5 million citizens and has “acquired” at least 6.7 million doses of the 9 million it needs, having actually received 1.1 million doses.
So far, he said, more than 133,300 citizens have been vaccinated.