Last week, the first round of targeted mass screening concluded with 73% of the primary school teachers tested, out of which 2,170 people tested positive for the coronavirus. Thus, in order to protect life and health, the Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) is calling to bring the winter break forward. However, State Secretary for Public Education Zoltán Maruzsa said that based on the national results of the mass screening, the epidemic situation appears to be stabilizing.
Last week, the first round of targeted mass screening of healthcare and social workers, as well as teachers, concluded. According to the results presented by the operative board, a bit less then expected, but a total of 181,506 people tested themselves on a voluntary basis. Out of this number, 2.44 percent of the tests were positive, amounting to a total of 4,436 positive cases.
Looking at the numbers produced by teachers, the participation rate was the smallest with 73% among primary school workers and teachers. A total of 95,102 workers were tested, with 2,170 positive tests, which means a 2.3% positivity rate. Based on the targeted schools, this means that roughly three-quarters of them took part in the testing, and one thousand was positive, who did not know they were positive until taking the test. As primary schools are still open, this means that at least more than two thousand teachers – and probably a lot more children – have been spreading the coronavirus, without even knowing it.
Therefore, to protect the lives and health of the teachers, schoolchildren, and families, the Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) is asking the government and the prime minister to bring the winter break forward because of the coronavirus epidemic. In an open letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Minister of Human Resources Miklós Kásler and Secretary of State for Public Education Zoltán Maruzsa asked for an immediate, early winter break to protect life and health, as well as for the immediate payment of incomes foregone due to the epidemic.
The organization asked: “…your political community refers to Christian values on several occasions. But where are these values when it comes to protecting workers?” The PDSZ suggests that the days lost – nearly two weeks – could be made up from June 16-30. The Union added that “you still keep kindergartens, schools open. The PDSZ receives a large amount of feedback that, in the case of confirmed infections, no measures are taken for days to prevent the spread of the epidemic, to protect students and staff in the institution.”
Secretary of State Zoltán Maruzsa spoke to Népszava about the measures against the epidemic situation. In the interview, he says that only 2.3 percent of those who took part in the mass testing, 811 kindergarten and 2,170 school workers were found to be infected, while these institutions have about 200,000 employees in total. According to the state secretary, this means that the level of infection is falling short of preliminary expectations and, on this basis of these results, the epidemic situation appears to be stabilizing.
Although the paper noted that school technical staff and students have not been tested who may also carry the disease, unaware that they could potentially infect others in schools, Maruzsa said, “…targeted, mass testing did not cover a wider circle to students’ family members, neighbors, or their friends for that matter. If someone is picking holes, they will find a wider circle every time.” The Secretary of State said this would be unrealistic, and he still believes the situation appears to be stabilizing on the basis of national data.
He said the testers went to all public education institutions, testing at a total of 9,198 locations. Action has become necessary in one third of these, typically in locations where it was already underway anyways. Regarding the early winter break, he said, “the key issues are justification, expediency, and timing. The operational staff will consider these aspects in relation to this proposal as well.”
Another important point that the PDSZ drew attention to in its letter is an earlier promise by the government that “educators who have contracted the infection in their workplace and are therefore COVID-positive, and their close contacts as well, will be entitled to full sick pay.” However, the PDSZ sees that this is not the case in practice. The organization wrote:
We are constantly receiving letters about what a vulnerable position the 60% sick pay puts Hungarian families. The road to 100% sick pay is slow, bureaucratic, and almost no one gets it at the end. We should not be in that position while people die and families’ futures become impossible.”
Although the 100 percent sick pay for teachers infected with the coronavirus was introduced months ago, according to the organization and teachers, hardly anyone gets it in reality. Because the exact details of coronavirus infections – such as the schools where the infectious patient is located – are not public, it is difficult for teachers to trace back where they got the disease: and they only get full sick pay if they contracted the coronavirus at school while working. According to the PDSZ, many teachers fear that if they test positive they will lose almost half of their income (which is already quite low), while recovering. This is probably the reason behind teachers being the smallest rate of workers tested at mass screenings as well.
As a result, the PDSZ also called on the government in their open letter to simplify the “bureaucratic process of paying wages lost because of incapacity for work due to the epidemic so that workers and their families do not experience testing as an existential fear. This move would protect not only those working in education, but also all those working in other productive sectors whose children do not carry the virus home.”
Featured photo illustration by Balázs Mohai/MTI