The course has already begun in most of Spain, the drip of covid cases makes it clear that one of the keys for education to continue working in these times of pandemic will be the management and control of infections, as already pointed out in this journal epidemiologist Quique Bassat . But the dimension of the impact of the reopening of schools on the pandemic in Spain will still take time to be seen, as the director of the Center for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies, Fernando Simón, warned last Monday. For now, a look at what is happening in schools that have resumed classes a little earlier than Spain in other parts of the world indicates that things may go well. And also very bad. In general, they seem a reflection, slightly reduced, of the general situation of the pandemic in each country.
“Good classmates”, “welcome to class”, “happy new semester”. At the entrance of the primary school of Peking Tsinghua University, purple and yellow posters with these messages received last Monday students between the second and fourth grades of primary school, the last remaining to start the new course in this center of 2,200 students . Several teachers took the temperature of the little ones who arrived; a group of parent volunteers handed out masks to those who had forgotten them.
Similar scenes have been repeated in other schools in the Chinese capital since September 1, the date the staggered return to classes began after the summer break of more than 280 million students across the country. In the affluent Shunyi neighborhood, on the outskirts of the city, Wenxuan, a 13-year-old adolescent with a ponytail and bangs, got off the school bus this past Monday, checking that she was carrying everything her school asked for for the first day of class: a list of your temperature in the last 14 days, a separate form with the temperature of the day and two masks: one on and the other, reserve just in case.
So far no incidents or infections have been reported: China has not officially registered a single new local infection for 23 days in a row, and only a handful of cases from abroad a day . The return to the classrooms is one more sign, highlighted with fanfare in the official media, that the country where the first cases of covid-19 were detected considers the virus definitively defeated.
Italy was the first country to close the classrooms of its schools and will be one of the last in Europe to reopen them; They will do it next Monday. Even so, many of the country’s school principals have expressed to the government their doubts about what they consider to be a hasty return. The Minister of Health, however, assured this newspaper last Monday that “the centers will open whatever happens.” Some regions, however, have already postponed their opening despite the State investment of 2,900 million in the 8,000 public centers to hire 97,000 teachers or buy 2.4 million new desks.
The security measures and protocols in case of contagion are already clear. The Italian school network will be connected with the Department of Health Prevention, which will decide on a case-by-case basis how to deal with the possible transmission of the virus. When a positive is detected, before a school closes, sources from the same ministry point out, “many measures will be taken” to avoid closure.
Prevention will force the wearing of a mask in class if the desks are less than one meter away and there is not, at least, two meters away from the teacher. It will also be used for trips around the school, to go to the bathroom and when entering and leaving school. The same will happen in school transport, where buses will travel with the windows down also in winter. Its capacity will be reduced to 80% and students will enter in an orderly manner: the vehicle will only be accessible when everyone is seated.
Portuguese students also return to classrooms next week and the Ministries of Health and Education have established a series of very general guidelines – social distancing, use of a mask for students aged 12 and over, among others – that each school must adapt to your own circumstances. The biggest concern in the educational community is that there is no logistical capacity or resources for students to keep the recommended distance of one meter between them.
Last week the authorities published the protocol that must be followed when it is found that one or more students of a school are infected and only in extreme cases will entire institutions be closed. What is not yet known is what will happen to teachers who request medical leave because they belong to a risk group, since according to current legislation they would stop receiving their salary after the first month of absence and the Government does not want them to telecommute.
Schools in the United Kingdom began to reopen their doors from 2 September, with the exception of Scotland, which decreed a return to the classroom in mid-August. The Government of Boris Johnson, which had set itself a priority objective to restore normalcy in the classrooms, has declared victory by announcing a presence of 90% of students throughout the country.
Despite the general recommendations published by the Ministry of Education, the schools have preserved a lot of autonomy when it comes to establishing their security measures, with which there have been notable divergences. In some centers, the use of masks in common areas has been forced, while others leave it to the freedom of parents and students.
In Germany, students returned to classrooms from the beginning of August, in a staggered way across the country as every year. Restarting the school year as normally as possible and full time is a priority for the German Government. Each of the 16 Länder decides the hygiene measures that govern its schools . Most of the students wear masks in common areas such as corridors or bathrooms, but not in classrooms.
The numbers of infections in schools vary according to the federal states and there is no unified count. Sources from the city-state of Berlin indicate to this newspaper that in 25 schools out of a total of 692 and 360,000 students there has been at least one positive case. As a general rule, infected people must comply with a 14-day quarantine, although “entire groups can also be closed,” they add.
10 days after the start of the course in France, in many schools the main cause of agitation is not the coronavirus, but colds. Teachers sometimes confuse them with symptoms of covid-19 or they are far-sighted and prefer not to take risks. Minors must return home and cannot return to the center without a certificate. Some medical offices are overwhelmed.
The Government offers wide discretion to schools to remain open or close in the event that children, teachers or employees of the center are detected with the disease. In collaboration with the Regional Health Agency, the list of contacts that must stay at home, take the test and comply with the 14-day quarantine is established.
In Russia, in most regions, it has returned to the classroom almost as before the pandemic. The health protection agency has issued a series of guidelines: take the temperature of the students at the entrance, that they do not attend class at the slightest symptom and also take extreme hygiene and cleanliness of the facilities. In addition, schools have been asked to make a schedule so that students in different classes and courses do not coincide during breaks or recess, a period in which classrooms and common areas will be disinfected again, according to the Health department.
There have been no specific separation measures between desks and masks are not mandatory, but the Ministry of Education has left it up to each school to establish additional measures. They should also try to have more outdoor activities. In some areas of regions such as Transbaikalia and Sverdlovsk, several schools have had to return to remote mode again when detecting cases of covid-19, although there are no official figures.
A week after the start of the course in Israel on day 1, the Ministry of Education recorded last Tuesday more than 1,800 positive cases of coronavirus among students, teachers and non-teaching staff. The contagions in the school community – which have placed about 25,000 people under home quarantine – have forced the closure of at least 42 education centers and 150 kindergartens throughout the country.
But these official figures do not include data for the 40 cities and districts, mostly Arab and ultra-Orthodox Jews, which have been under a partial curfew since Wednesday and where face-to-face teaching has been suspended for a week . They also do not include information on the centers that have only closed the classrooms where positive cases for covid-19 have been registered.
Education authorities consider that the infection rate in schools is four times lower than that of the general population. With an average of more than 3,000 new cases per day, the Jewish State (nine million inhabitants) last week reached the highest per capita rate of infections in the world, with 215 daily cases per million inhabitants, ahead of Brazil (188 ) and Spain (182), according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University (USA).