We must all exercise self-control and selflessness as South Africa approaches a third wave, writes Sister Nomathemba Mabaso, School Nurse at St John’s College
With the news of patient zero on 5 March last year, there was a sense of cautious anxiety as we began to plan for the worst and develop mitigating policies and protocols. As the School Nurse, heading up the St John’s College Sanatorium, I was approached by our compliance manager to be part of our COVID-19 Management Team, which also comprised representatives from the Sixth Form, College, Preparatory and Pre-preparatory schools, and the sports department.
Having a coordinating body was crucial to make sure we all remained abreast of the latest information, were able to align our responses to medical and governmental advice and regulations, and were able to communicate effectively with our students, staff, parents and government departments.
We had to remain level-headed and give medical direction to the St John’s community. We provided education and advice regarding testing; when to test, where, who needed testing, the difference between isolation and quarantine and the number of days associated with these terms.
While schools were closed during the national lockdown, the team worked tirelessly to prepare the School for the students’ safe return. We set up screening stations at all campus entrances, issued a mobile app to compile risk and screening information in a central database, entrenched social-distancing and hygiene protocols across the school, and established a well-resourced COVID-19 Clinic and a government-approved quarantine site.
When our students returned in June 2020 we were excited and anxious to welcome them back. The lifeblood of our school, their wellbeing was, of course, our first priority, followed by returning as best we could to our regular academic programme.
As we settled into this strange new routine, I found that students and staff would visit me to ask questions, to discuss their fears, and sometimes just to talk. We have all hungered, not just for knowledge, but for human connection. I was no different, and am grateful for my colleagues in the Sanatorium who assisted and supported me with warmth and skill. We felt the burden of our responsibility keenly but were also gratified that the school and parents entrusted us with their children’s health and safety.
It might sound clichéd, but St John’s is a family. We felt the responsibility of our family to remain selfless enough to protect one another. We understood early on that the safety of all depends on us each living up to our standards of responsibility and care.
Sr Noma has provided the backbone and benchmark of the COVID-19 protocols at St John’s and her leadership has been valued during these challenging times.
I have been profoundly impressed over the past year by the willingness of all parties to listen, to understand and to make necessary sacrifices to ensure the safety of our people. The school has spared no expense to ensure we have a well-resourced and comprehensive set of response mechanisms and structures in place. The Departments of Education, Health and Environmental Affairs have been supportive and helpful in coordinating responses across the education sector. We have felt part of something unified, which exists only to serve and protect us all. It has been gratifying.
At this stage, increasing COVID-19 case numbers across the country appear to indicate the start of the anticipated third wave. This week St John’s discovered a positive case, and then, through our close-contact tracing protocol, ten additional cases. We successfully quarantined those at possible risk and isolated those who tested positive. We worked closely with the departments of Health and Basic Education, who congratulated us on our response. The situation is under control and has not impacted the academic programme. But it is a reminder that the pandemic’s threat has not abated.
It is important to remember that these waves are inevitable. Their appearance, and severity, are determined by our actions. We have lived with the threat of COVID-19 for more than a year. We are all tired, whether or not we’re at the front lines of COVID-19 prevention. But complacency will only make our situation worse.
Parents: if your children are unwell, keep them at home. And please limit high-risk behaviour outside of the school. Students: please don’t treat screening processes and protocols as meaningless formalities. We’re trying to protect one another; be honest in your self-assessments. Staff must continue to sanitise and enforce social distancing. And we all need to hold one another to account.
We all know the steps we must take to ensure the third wave is less severe than the previous two. These simple but effective steps are not new or surprising. What it does take is an effort of will – the will to do what is inconvenient or troublesome, the will to be selfless and the will to put the needs of our collective community above our own.
But given my experience since March last year, I know this selflessness is within our reach. I have been impressed, time and time again, by the kindness, care and respect we have shown one another. It’s time to show that again.
This guest column first appeared in the Sunday Times Daily on 17 May 2021.