By Dr Sheri Fanaroff MBBCh FCFP MFamMed, a Family Physician, practicing in Melrose, Johannesburg. Fanaroff is a member of GGPC (Gauteng General Practitioners Collaboration) which has created a platform for doctors to share resources during Covid-19. Look for #voicesthatcare on the GGPC Facebook page.
Matrics 2020 across the country did not expect the disrupted year that they found themselves in due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While some students embraced the online learning and extra study time with fewer disruptions, many have found it extremely challenging with missed teaching time and lost teacher contact. Add to this the forfeited opportunities such as cancelled matric dances, disappointing online valedictories and irretrievable sporting and cultural “lasts” and we have a group of matric students who feel hard done by, anxious and unmotivated.
What can we do to keep matrics 2020 safe and sane?
With the threat of COVID-19 putting them into quarantine or isolation, and the risk of missing an exam meaning that they may not matriculate, what can we do to keep matrics 2020 safe and sane? Some Capetonian Matrics are already in jeopardy after a superspreading party recently was responsible for 59 new COVID-19 infections.
Health tips for matrics 2020
- Make sure that students get enough sleep. At this age, they should have a minimum of six to eight hours of sleep at night; this is particularly important the night before an exam. Chat to your doctor about Melatonin if your Matric student struggles to fall asleep at night and to wake up early in the morning.
- Eat healthy, regular meals and snacks to keep energy levels up.
- Make time each day for exercise (even if it’s a short run/walk around the garden or a quick refreshing swim).
- Stay well hydrated and drink lots of water.
- Avoid excessive caffeine, particularly in the evening. Energy drinks and Bioplus might give a short burst of energy, but they can make students jittery, have a negative effect on sleep, and they generally cause a slump as they wear off.
- Only use stimulants such as Ritalin and Concerta if there is a definite diagnosis of ADD or ADHD and they have been prescribed for a particular student. (These are schedule 6 medications, can cause adverse effects and should not be shared among friends!)
- Make time for relaxation every day – meditate/ chat to friends/ watch a tv show/ do an enjoyable activity.
- Vitamins and immune boosters are a good idea. I recommend Vitamin B (a Neurobion injection works well if they are really run down), Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc. Alternatively one good multivitamin such as Centrum or Supradyn is also a good option.
How much should matrics 2020 be exposed to?
- Matrics 2020 should be shielded from exposures that will put them at risk of either contracting COVID-19 or becoming a close contact of someone who has been infected. If they do get exposed or infected, they will need to be in quarantine or isolation for 10 to 14 days. This will mean that they miss out on writing exams and may not be able to matriculate with their class.
- Matrics 2020 and their families should practice stringent hand hygiene, social distancing and mask wearing during all interactions.
- They should carefully consider whether it is worth the risk of joining any parties or large gatherings, particularly in indoor venues, for the next few weeks. Remember that infected people may shed virus and be contagious for up to 72 hours before developing symptoms, and even close friends and extended family may be risky to you.
- In every setting, ask yourself: “If someone who is at this gathering calls in a couple of days to say they have contracted the virus, will I be considered a close contact?” This means you should avoid close contact (within 1.5 metres) for extended periods (more than 15 minutes) with anyone outside of your immediate household.
- If family members (parents/ siblings) are having outside contacts, then in the home, the matric student should be considered a high risk individual and should exercise caution when interacting with the rest of the family i.e. keep 1.5 metres away, and possibly even wear a mask if not in their own room. When eating together, sit at a distance of at least two metres, preferably outside, or even consider shielding the Matric student behind a perspex screen. Stringent hand washing and sanitising should be practiced in the home. When travelling in the car as a group, consider wearing masks and leaving the windows open.
- Schools are practicing strict COVID protocols during exams, with desks spread far apart, screening and hand hygiene on entering and all students wearing masks. Exam venues should be well ventilated and invigilators should be wearing masks and not stand too close to students.
- The aim is to try to avoid Covid exposures for the entire family. Remember that if anyone becomes infected, the matric student will be placed in quarantine and may not be able to write exams, even if they themselves are not ill. Some schools are making accommodations for this and might allow healthy quarantined students to write in a separate venue. The Department of Basic Education have stated that they will allow students presenting with temperatures above 38 degrees Celsius to write their exams, but in isolation.
- If students develop any symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat, headaches etc, please consult with your doctor about whether they should be tested for COVID-19. It is not fair to put the rest of the class in jeopardy if one student is infected. This is the time to be considerate and responsible in the interests of keeping the whole class well. Sick students should stay at home!!
Mental health in the face of matric exams
- Matrics 2020, more than ever, need the unconditional support of their parents and families. Expect moodiness and grumpiness from your teen. Try to remain a calm and reassuring source of comfort.
- Matric exams are highly stressful and pressurised ,creating anxiety in even the most laid-back of students.
- The “health tips” above are beneficial both to physical and to mental health. Exercise, healthy eating and relaxation are crucial.
- Teenagers do need their friends – encourage them to connect electronically or to have COVID-safe interactions, sticking to one or two friends, distanced, outside and wearing masks.
- It’s important to get the balance right – short but enjoyable breaks from studying will lead to more productive study time.
- Limit time on social media; it can become hugely time consuming and addictive to scroll through Instagram or YouTube, leaving much less time for revision. Encourage students to put their phones in another room to minimize distractions while studying.
- Phones should be switched off and preferably in another room once students have gone to bed. Try to do something other than having screen time before bed, so that the mind can switch off and not be stimulated by the light from the phone.
- Reassure your Matric student that results of exams are not as important as they seem at this point in their life. Nobody will ask them in job interviews how many distinctions they got in matric.
- If your Matric student is really struggling with anxiety or panic symptoms, speak to a psychologist and your GP about treatment options.
The next few weeks are going to be particularly tough for matric students and their families. Don’t let the threat of COVID quarantine or isolation ruin plans for university or gap years in 2021. Stay vigilant, socialise safely only when necessary and hold out until the end.