Parents anxious as dozens of students contract Covid

By Thanh Hang, Duong Tam   October 18, 2021 | 06:25 am PT
Since her daughter traveled on the same bus as a Covid patient, Nguyen Hai has been like a cat on hot bricks.

On the afternoon of Oct. 17, Hai read a message in the parent group chat about a fourth grader at Bai Bang Primary School, Phong Chau Town, northern Phu Tho Province, infected with the novel coronavirus. She was quickly informed this student was on the shuttle bus with her daughter, a grade two student at the school.

Contacting the bus operator, Hai learned the infected student had registered for the bus when she was in grades one and two before stopping using the service.

About a week ago, due to prolonged rain, her parents wanted to resume using the pick up service.

"The student only used the bus for a few days, so the operator could not immediately determine which bus she was on. My child and more than 70 others were classified as those coming into close contact with a Covid patient," said Hai, 32.

Hai is among many Phu Tho parents who worry about their children after the northern province recorded 45 Covid cases in local schools, but the source of the infections is not known.

The number of cases is expected to rise since many of the patients are students, forcing several localities to close schools and enact temporary lockdowns.

After reporting to the Phu Ninh Commune clinic, Hai and her daughter were asked to stay at home and not visit any centralized testing site like other students. Instead, medical staff would come to their home to take samples. The mother could not stop worrying while waiting for the medical team to arrive.

To calm herself, Hai talked and explained to her son why he had to stop going to school. Although there had been no decision on whether second graders like her son had to attend centralized quarantine, the mother still told him "to listen to other adults if you stay in a quarantine facility."

The boy said "yes" and sat quietly, occasionally asking if nurses would arrive for the Covid test.

Parents wait for their children to have Covid-19 tests at Giay Bai Bang Primary School, Phong Chau Town, Phu Tho, Oct. 18, 2021. Photo bn VnExpress/Viet An

Parents wait for their children to have Covid-19 tests at Giay Bai Bang Primary School, Phong Chau Town, Phu Tho, Oct. 18, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Viet An

Contacting some parents whose children also used the shuttle bus service, Hai learned only a few students had been tested and received negative results, while the rest had not been tested yet.

"Not only me, other families are also anxious. I hope everything will be over soon, students will be vaccinated quickly and go to school normally," she said.

Living near Chu Hoa Primary and Secondary schools in Viet Tri Town, Nguyen Thi Thu Hang, 35, could not sleep due to fears over infection. She recalled what happened on the evening of Oct. 16, at about 8 p.m, when she received news that a family of four living in Hung Son Town, Lam Thao District, had tested positive for the virus, and that one member was a student at Chu Hoa Secondary School, another at Chu Hoa Primary School.

Immediately, local authorities announced all students from the secondary school must go to the school to test for Covid-19 at night. For primary schools, only children in the same class as the patient had to go for testing immediately.

"Two of my children are at the same school with a Covid patient, I am anxious, constantly updating information from online groups. The children are not yet eligible for testing, but the house is near the school. I was so worried that I couldn't sleep, always holding my phone and waiting for news," Hang said.

Early on Oct. 17, results from the overnight testing showed 45 cases in Chu Hoa Secondary School were positive. Hang’s commune fell into a state of emergency. Checkpoints were set up, while the ward loudspeaker continuously informed people to prepare to take samples for testing, then self-isolate at home.

By afternoon, her whole family had quick Covid tests, the results negative. However, later that night, after Chu Hoa Primary School held a school-wide test campaign and discovered that a teacher was a suspected patient, Hang worried again, because her child was at risk.

"This morning, I called to report to my employer and health authorities. The family was instructed to seriously self-isolate and was reassured to stay calm," Hang said.

According to Phu Tho Health Department, as of 6 a.m. on Oct.18, the province has recorded 92 cases of Covid-19 since Oct. 13. In particular, the number of cases in Chu Hoa Commune has reached 66, becoming the only commune in the province classified at the most dangerous level (level 4).

Assuming that her children would have to study online for at least the next two weeks, Hang accepts it even though the effectiveness is not as good as in-person classes. With the current stressful situation, she asserted that "even if the school is open, I would not let my children go to class."

Duong Van Tan, resident of Bach Hac Ward, Viet Tri Town, also had no choice but to send his ten-year-old son and four-year-old daughter to his grandparents’ house, after local authorities decided to close schools. Lang Dai Village, where his family lives, recorded a Covid case. The patient’s two grandchildren attended the same primary school as his son. When dozens of students with Covid-19 were confirmed at the other end of town, Tan grew anxious.

"When the children go to school, I worry about infection. Now they are at home with their grandmother, it will be very difficult for them to learn online" Tan said, adding teachers have warned that students in grades four and five will have a lot to learn.

Students at Chu Hoa Secondary School wait for Covid-19 tests on the night of Oct. 16, Phu Tho. Photo courtesy of Phu Tho Newspaper

Students at Phu Tho's Chu Hoa Secondary School wait for Covid-19 tests on the night of Oct. 16, 2021. Photo courtesy of Phu Tho Newspaper

Worried about catching Covid-19 and ineffective online learning is the concern of many parents, especially those in pandemic-affected areas. Living in Lam Thao District, where there have been infections, Bui Hang can do nothing but follow restrictions.

"Never before have we felt the pandemic so close," said Hang.

Starting Oct. 18, in parallel with disease control, Lam Thao also boosts vaccinations. Hang said that even though children have not been vaccinated, the large vaccine coverage for adults will also reduce the risk, helping her and other parents feel more secure.

"I think only when the pandemic is under control, would schools reopen," said Hang, who keeps encouraging her children and supporting them with online learning.

Currently, students in Viet Tri Town, Lam Thao District; Phong Chau Town and Phu Ninh Commune in Phu Ninh District have to remain home for at least a week, starting Monday.

From the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, Phu Tho has organized in-person classes for students. Taking advantage of the "prime time", schools have been trying to speed up the program.

"If we have to study online in the next one to three weeks, the progress of the school year plan would not be affected much. Right now, the most important thing is the health of students," said a teacher in Phu Ninh District.

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