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There were high levels of anxiety among students and staff at an east-based secondary school yesterday, where it is believed several people were exposed to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) by a teacher who allegedly told the school’s principal on Thursday that she may have been exposed to the virus via her husband.

Guardian Media understands from a school official that the teacher is the spouse of an employee of the country’s first recorded and confirmed case of COVID-19—the 52-year-old businessman who contracted the virus while on a trip to Switzerland.

The official said the teacher, who attended school all week and interacted with several staff and students, did not turn up to school yesterday after announcing to the principal that she might be carrying the virus.

The official said although the principal received this information and staff called on him to shut down the school yesterday morning, he refused saying he would have to wait on such a directive from Education Minister Anthony Garcia.

The official said what was additionally disturbing is that the principal, having such important information, also failed to announce it to the school to place those who would have been in contact with the teacher on alert.

“There is a high level of concern, especially among the students whom she would have interacted with,” said the official.

She added, “The teacher would have compromised the health of everyone because while we are waiting for persons to exhibit symptoms, this virus has an incubation period of 14 days. And other persons would be going home to their parents and grandparents, whose immune systems might not be as strong as a younger person. So I think it was very irresponsible of them to not close the school from since this morning.”

As the official was on the phone with the T&T Guardian, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the closure of schools for a week. To this, the official said this had brought some relief to them but still noted that the principal should have done the right thing much earlier in the day for the safety of the staff and students.

Guardian Media made several calls to Education Minister Anthony Garcia’s mobile yesterday to find out if the ministry had any information on the matter but all calls went unanswered.

Chief Education Officer in the Ministry of Education Harrilal Seecharan was also contacted but he said he could not confirm the situation at the school as the ministry had no such information.

However, an Education Ministry official last night said the Ministry of Health is leading the charge in conducting the contact tracing process as it relates to confirmed COVID-19 cases in T&T.

“Today, the Ministry of Health would have been working with the family and the possible persons they would have been in contact with and we don’t have the details of that,” the Education Ministry official, who did not want to be named, said.

The official said while schools are closed there are protocols being followed by the Health Ministry.

He said, “If there is any need for them to contact us for any intervention, they would do so.”

During yesterday’s Parliament session, Rowley said the decision to close all schools was a preventive measure to safeguard against the spread of the virus.

— With reporting by Anna-Lisa Paul