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Much ado about using school hostels as isolation centers for COVID-19 patients

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THE federal government earlier in May, raised the alarm that many states in the country may soon run out of bed spaces in the isolation centers due to the increasing number of infected COVID-19 patients. Faced with the dearth of facilities for coronavirus patients, the federal government says it will resort to the use of school hostels as isolation centers.

  Dr. Osagie Ehanie, the Health Minister said at the Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19 at Abuja, that “there have been complaints of inadequate bed spaces especially in Lagos  which has the highest number of infected persons; we are not surprisingly worried about the increasing number of the COVID-19 confirmed cases, first every life matters, but also because of the capacity of our health system to cope.

  “Nigeria presently has over 122 treatment and isolation centers in 35 states and FCT with over 5, 000 beds but not all states have made it up at least 300 beds prescribed for isolation and treatment”.

  “In event of overflow, we require school hostels to be prepared for level 1 (quarantine) and level 2 isolation (of COVID-19 positive with zero or mild symptoms), to free hospital beds to be dedicated to level 3 (moderate to servere cases) and level 4 (high dependency and intensive care unit)”, he said.

  The Director General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, in a Presidential Task Force briefing on the control of COVID-19 in Abuja, said, “some states were already experiencing difficulties accommodating patients in their over-boarded isolation facilities”. When asked to access the bed space situation, he said, “we have a big challenge on our hands, we are still plus or minus where we are. States like Lagos, Zamfara, Kano and other states where they have increasing numbers, outweigh the capacity to continue implementing our policy of institutional isolation of all the patients, whether they are asymptotic, mild  symptomatic or severe”.

  However, private school owners have rejected the option of using school hostels as isolation centers.

  President of National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, Yomi Otubela, said it would not allow any of its facilities to be converted into isolation centers. The president in an interview said schools should be reopened rather than being converted into a purpose that will make them inaccessible to students; “I don’t know how many of the western countries whose method we are copying have to use school hostels as isolation centers. We should copy and copy rightly; schools are meant for children and we should not use them for purposes that will make them abandon schooling.”

  Otubela noted that there are many public places that the government could convert to isolation centers. “There are large expanses of land and moribund hospital facilities that the government can quickly fix and use for isolation centers. The association rejects the offer, in fact, private schools should be considered for reopening because it is easy to maintain physical distancing than in public schools because they are usually crowded,” he added.

  “Health wise, environment matters when treating a patient. Are the federal government ready to set the hostels to a setting of a hospital or isolation center that would help the patient recover faster and better? Most hostels are crowded with bunks and some aren’t in good shape for patients to use. Looking at it, it’s not appropriate to use school hostels for isolation centers,” Miss. Esther Jacobs, a nursing student of  Babcock University said.

  Mrs. Akamelu Chioma, while speaking on the issue of using school hostels as isolation centers said: “I think it’s actually bad. These are accomodations meant for students. There are news of students resuming school soo;, no one knows if it’s true or not but what would happen if school resumes and these patients are still in their hostels? They can’t stay there with them. Even after all these is over, what measures would be taken that the hostel or school as a whole would be properly fumigated? It’s a deadly virus we are talking about; if these hostels aren’t properly cleaned afterwards and students resume, they are prone to getting infected. I feel it’s not healthy to use school hostels as isolation centers to treat COVID-19 patients.”

  “Most school hostels aren’t conducive for students; we all were once students. Those of us who were boarders can testify to this. Most students are just managing living there talk more of turning that place to an isolation center when most of the facilities there aren’t in good shape. Apart from the coronavirus that the country is handling, there are still other diseases one could get from there. Nigerians are not good with keeping promises. After all these are over, what hope is there that the federal government would keep that place in good shape that’s by properly fumigating the hostels and reconstructing it if there’s need for it? The federal government could build more isolation centers with the vast lands scattered all over the country. Using school hostels isn’t the ideal way to increase the capacity or bed spaces to treat COVID-19 patients”, Miss. Favour Chinecherem said.

  Still on the big issue, Mr. Samuel Nwosu, a teacher said, “hostels aren’t properly evacuated; students still have their properties in school. Would they throw their stuffs out? Instead of looking for more spaces, can’t they look at finding a cure? local healers are  bringing out remedies, let’s work on them not to keep waiting for USA to give us a cure but if need be for them to use school hostels, they could be used but properly fumigated after use to avoid students getting infected when school resumes fully.”

  “Are hostels ideal? In my opinion, it depends. A hostel in Covenant vs a hostel in NAU! A patient might likely recover faster at the former than the latter”, Mrs. Nnenne Ekechukwu, a counselor said.

  “That will be an awful decision by the federal government of Nigeria. They’ll be endangering the lives of students by doing so. School hostels shouldn’t be an option. Even if they disinfect the hostels, the students will continue to live in fear and who knows, even if the hostels are properly disinfected, it would be renamed “coro” hostel by the students and sets after sets would know what they would say about the hostels as most people wouldn’t want to stay there,”another man who prefers to be anonymous claims.

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