Are Teachers with T1D Going Back To School in Latin America?


Editor’s Note: This article, originally published on Beyond Type 1 En Español, has been translated from Spanish.

With the new normal, going back to school is already being programmed even with the presence of COVID-19. Safety and health protocols are being established, but there seems to be one aspect that is not being considered: many of the teachers live with diabetes.

People living with diabetes appear to be more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill if they catch COVID-19, which can cause lung infection (pneumonia), kidney failure and even death, and currently there is no vaccine against it. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern.

When people with diabetes develop a viral infection, it can be more difficult to treat due to fluctuations in blood glucose levels and possibly the presence of complications from diabetes. This happens for two reasons. First, the immune system is compromised, making it harder to fight the virus and likely leading to a longer recovery period. Second, the virus can thrive with high blood glucose.

We asked some teachers what they think about going back to school in the midst of a new reality in which the virus is still around and generating uncertainty, especially for people who live with diabetes.

Teachers with Type 1 diabetes

Arely said that being a teacher means being exposed to any type of illness from the flu or chickenpox to, most recently, COVID-19. “We have always been required to have all our vaccines and now we are required to use face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. The children will have a personal care time that used to be for brushing their teeth and now it will include washing their hands and social distancing, although it seems it will be complicated. In the school where I work, they will separate the groups to have fewer children in each classroom, the material and the room will have to be cleaned every day with antiseptic wipes.”

She told us that that is the information they have been given so far and added “Concerning my blood glucose, I have to be well managed, I must not miss mealtimes and I must follow the hygiene protocol to the letter.”

Ismael said, “they have not told us anything about it, but I am responsible for taking care of my health and I plan to take sanitary and interaction measures with face masks or face shields.”

Guadalupe said something similar, she is already looking for the things she will need in her classroom and speaking with the parents so that each child has their hand sanitizer as well as soap in addition to the one that she has and other things that are necessary for school to be “normal”, calm and not stressful “As for my personal things, I am buying a lot of face masks and I will look for a face shield, I need to be well hydrated, manage my blood glucose properly, watch my diet, my medications and of course, all my colleagues know about my condition and I am not the only one. There are 12 of us working the classrooms and out of those 12, four of us live with diabetes so we take care of each other.

But we also find teachers who do not have it very clear or have not received such specific instructions. Marta said, “I am losing sleep about going back to school with my diabetes.” Lulu told us that she is a classroom teacher and is also a principal and she still does not have any real instructions but she is already organizing groups with fewer students, as well as all the necessary measures for both the children and the teachers: taking their temperature when entering the school, using a face mask, using sanitizing mats, she has even thought of installing a disinfection chamber at the entrance, and enabling all four entrances to avoid crowds but she has not made definite decisions yet “I am a little scared because I have type 1 diabetes, but I also manage it well to lower the risk of complications. Now, as a mother, I am thinking about whether or not I should send my children back since there are large groups at their school and I do not think they can bear to have the face shield on, I do not think I am going to send them back, they can stay home, I will teach them.”

The instructions of the school authorities

The instructions that the Ministry of Education in Mexico has issued is that in-person classes will be held when the traffic light turns green and that they are working on how to manage vulnerable personnel. As for private institutions, each one has their own way of handling things and their own structure.

Some institutions will begin remote classes from August 10 until further notice and might begin in a “hybrid” system with two in-person days for students whose surnames go from A to H, another two from I to Z leaving Friday for those students who are behind and the rest of the days will be done remotely.

They have used the time off to organize their structure and dynamics to do it remotely because the pandemic disturbed most of it. Among the actions to be taken is to increase the internet signal so that it does not cause so many interruptions, restructure the program to a digital format and make it easier for the teachers, the students and the parents.

The next school year will be a challenge for everyone, however, it is an opportunity for learning and growth. Teachers, unlike children, will probably have to attend the educational institution for both training and program structure and they need to be prepared. They will need to take actions not only in protective measures such as the use of face masks but also with their diabetes management from diet and medications, to get back to their physical activity if they have stopped.

As mentioned, going back to school is a challenge but it is also an opportunity for growth and self-management that, in the long run, will probably lead to an improvement in health and quality of life for people living with diabetes.

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WRITTEN BY Eugenia Araiza, Diabetes Educator and Nutritionist, POSTED 08/25/20, UPDATED 11/25/22

Eugenia Araiza Eugenia has a degree in nutrition specialized in diabetes and she is a diabetes educator. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 25 years ago, she is the creator of Healthy Diabetes. She really enjoys studying and helping others in managing their different types of diabetes. She loves studying, managing type 1 diabetes and nutrition. She especially enjoys writing about the impact diabetes has in her life. She lives surrounded by the love of her family, who are Luis Felipe, who lives with latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) type diabetes and her teenage son, Indigo.