Covid-19 and teachers: ‘I am paranoid, anxious and cautious’

Case study: 60 year old with cancer and heart condition worries about return to classroom

Teacher with health issues was given a report stating he was “high risk” and not “very high risk”, so he would be expected at his desk when school reopened. Photograph: iStock

Teacher with health issues was given a report stating he was “high risk” and not “very high risk”, so he would be expected at his desk when school reopened. Photograph: iStock

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“It is constantly in my head. It is a very anxious time,” says Tomas (to protect his identity we are not using his real name), a 60-year-old secondary school teacher ordered to return to work next week despite having cancer and a heart condition, which leave him at high risk of contracting Covid-19.

Last week, he filled out the online risk assessment for returning to school, which he believed, because of his renal carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer for which he had part of his kidney removed last year, and his angioplasty and stent insertion, would allow him to work from home.

As part of the process, he was asked for an up-to-date report from his consultant.

“Let’s just say he’d prefer if I didn’t return to the workplace,” he said.

Just days later a report was emailed back to him stating that he was simply “high risk” and not “very high risk”, so he would be expected at his desk when the school gates reopened.

The only advice was to socially distance and take the appropriate hygiene measures.

Bolt from blue

“It was a bolt out of the blue, considering my conditions,” he said. “I do want to go back to work sometime but I don’t feel now is the appropriate time.”

A teacher for 40 years, Tomas has been cocooning to protect himself at home since the start of the pandemic. His wife and two children, with whom he lives, have also been limiting their social contacts because of his illnesses.

From the information we have at the moment, you could be knocked out for months and no one knows the long-term effects of the disease

With his medical conditions, he has been “paranoid, anxious and cautious” about coronavirus.

Now, faced with having to mix with large groups of children and adults in his school, where “space is very much limited”, he says a “plethora of worries” are weighing on him.

“It’s not safe at the moment,” he said.

“I’m particularly worried about the areas in the school that become congested at times.

‘Lax with time’

“I know we’ll all be very careful at the start, but people will get more lax in time. Kids are kids, and they have to be kids.”

Break times are another concern, he says, adding that he is worried about the impact the stress will have on his ability to focus on his teaching.

“Normally, when you go to work you just worry about work – now I have this other worry hovering over my head.

“It seems to be a fait accompli.

“My worst fear is that I will contract Covid and all the risks that go with that, even developing another serious illness from contracting it. From the information we have at the moment, you could be knocked out for months and no one knows the long-term effects of the disease.”

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