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Are schools safe to reopen during the pandemic? 

13 Aug 2020

It depends on how widespread COVID-19 infections are in the community, and on the school's security measures. Public health experts say the in-person education would be too risky in areas where the virus is poorly controlled.

Experts say schools still need to make adjustments in areas where the virus appears to be under control to minimize risk at reopening. One of the signs the virus is under control is a sustained decline in cases and a positive case rate of less than 2 per cent, some experts say.

But given the many lingering unknowns about the virus, school districts approach in a variety of ways to the school year.

Evidence suggests that young kids don't spread the disease very easily, while children aged 10 and above can transmit as easily as adults. But experts say there has to be more conclusive proof.

And even though children appear less likely to get infected than adults and less likely to get seriously ill when they do, there have been severe cases and deaths.

Infected children and adolescents often have only mild illness or no symptoms. That means they could pose a risk unknowingly to other students — who can pass the virus on to their parents and grandparents — or to teachers and other adults who may be vulnerable to severe illness if infected.

Experts say schools should make adjustments to reduce risk when resuming classes in-person. 

Recommended safety measures include wearing school face coverings and limiting movement so children stay in the same classroom all day long. It's also advised to place desks several feet apart. It also helps to cancel assemblies, cafeteria meals and other gatherings, the US says. Centres for Disease Prevention and Control. 

 

With far fewer cases than in the United States, some Scandinavian countries reopened schools with adjustments and had no outbreaks linked to schools. But in Israel, schools that reopened when virus activity was low ended up shutting down a few weeks later when community cases, including amongst students and teachers, were spiking.