Schools start ingres spree across Europe and the UK opens on 1 June, so is it really safe? In fact, scientists are still trying to figure out how children transmit coronaviruses. After being blocked for two months, teacher Matt Dix is anxious to return to work. With primary school in Nottinghamshire, England, due to open next month, the primary school teacher has had to use his creativity to keep his sixth graders at a distance from each other while ensuring that those who are still at home receive learning materials.
But Dix is also concerned about the health of his students and family. “The worry is that we’re being used as a test to see if the number of infections will go up and what impact the outbreak will have on children over a four-week period,” Dix said. “
Although British schoolchildren will return to school on June 1, scientists are still trying to figure out how much the impact of the reopening will be on the outbreak. Children make up only a small proportion of confirmed cases of neo-coronary pneumonia and often have only mild symptoms when they become ill. How children affect the spread of the virus remains a key scientific question. Scientists will only get answers when children start interacting with classmates and teachers again.
In order to restart the economy, European countries are starting school
Recently, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have all started allowing children to return to school. The wide difference between the starting rules and the start time of the whole continent essentially turns the classroom into a huge “natural” experiment that allows scientists to understand what is most effective in fighting the epidemic.
Germany has ruled that students who are about to graduate from primary school and those who are about to take exams will be allowed to return to the classroom from May 4. To reduce the risk of virus transmission, class sizes were cut in half and lunch breaks were staggered. Denmark was the first country in Europe to reopen in mid-April, giving priority to kindergartens and primary schools because young children are at the lowest risk of infection and have poor self-learning skills. But keeping the social distance means that both teachers and students must wear masks and desks must be at least two metres apart.
Early data from Denmark look promising. The reopening of the school did not appear to have caused a new outbreak of infection. As of 15 May, a month after students returned to the classroom, the number of new infections in the country was still falling. While it is too early to judge the effects of lifting the embargo in the rest of Europe, many are putting schools at the heart of a renewed economic plan. Because once in school, many parents can go back to work.
UK announces start-of-year and start-of-school rules
In an evening nationally televised address on May 10th, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that schools in The UK would start in stages as early as 1 June, starting with the first and sixth grades. The reason behind the move, according to a 50-page guidance document released the next day, is “to ensure that the youngest children, as well as those in the graduating class, have more time to study with their teachers before the summer holidays.”
The UK government has stipulated that class sizes must be halved and that no more than 15 students can be attended. Dicks teaches a class of 30 people in a Victorian teaching building with narrow corridors and small classrooms, so it can accommodate only six to nine students to keep their distance from society. “All schools are different, so the government can’t offer a common way to start school,” Dix said. “
The timetable envisaged by the UK government will depend on the UK’s ability to keep the number of regenerations of the outbreak below one at all times. To understand the impact of reopening schools, epidemiologists must first look at the effects of school closures in reducing the spread of the virus. The number of regenerations in the UK currently hovers around 0.7.
The researchers believe the new evidence from China may provide some clues. A study published April 29 in the journal Science analyzed data from Wuhan and Shanghai. Although school closures alone are not enough to stop the spread of the virus, they reduce the number of regenerations by about 0.3. Once the number of regenerations exceeds 1, the epidemic begins to grow exponentially, so an additional 0.3 will have a devastating effect on countries close to this threshold.
Are children with neo-coronary pneumonia less contagious than adults?
The researchers surveyed 636 researchers from Wuhan and 557 from Shanghai, and obtained tracking information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Hunan Province. In the end, they concluded that children between the ages of 0 and 14 were about one-third more likely to be infected with the coronavirus.
Marco Aguirre, a mathematical epidemiologist at Indiana University’s School of Public Health, led the team’s analysis of the study, which he believes will allow them to calculate the impact of public health interventions on the spread of the virus. The researchers believe that when school starts, children’s actual contact is three to four times that of adults, largely offsetting their lower risk of infection.
“A key question that this study cannot answer is: Are children with neo-coronary pneumonia less contagious than adults?” he said. So far, the infectiousness of children has not been directly measured, and we have no direct evidence. Since there is not enough evidence, we assume that the infectiousness is the same between children and adults. “
Another team analyzed data on the viral load of children tested for the virus in routine coronaviruses at the Institute of Virology at Berlin’s Charlett Hospital and published their preliminary findings online on April 30. Although the symptoms of children are mild, the infected person appears to have as many viruses as adults. “Based on this result, we have to remind everyone that schools and kindergartens cannot be reopened without restriction under the current circumstances,” the researchers said. Children can be as contagious as adults. “
Martin Hibberd, professor of new infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said children may indeed spread the virus like other age groups, but it is too early to draw conclusions. Further research is needed to understand other factors associated with the spread of the virus, such as coughing, where symptomless children may have less cough and therefore spread less through this mechanism.
In late April, the Department of Health and Social Security began distributing nasal and throat swabs to British households. However, children are only eligible for swabs when symptoms develop. In the United States, the National Institutes of Health will track 2,000 families over the next six months to determine whether healthy and asthmatic children are infected with the virus and if the infection infects other family members.
The pros and cons of going back to school
In fact, a considerable number of people agree that the benefits of starting school outweigh the risks. Children can see their friends again, and those struggling with distance learning get more spiritual support. They can better prepare for secondary school. Parents can also go back to work or make time to work more efficiently at home.
While there are some benefits to getting children back to school before a long summer vacation, they can also disrupt their new learning habits. Emma Maynard, a psychologist and senior lecturer in pedagogy at the University of Portsmouth, said: “I think it’s a very strange choice to have the youngest child start school first. Preschool and first-year students, who have only recently started formal education, will have to adjust to half a semester, which can interfere with young children. “
Children, she claims, also have a hard time maintaining a safe social distance. A lively and active personality means they will be in touch with each other and will always be around. It’s great for the kids because it’s the way they learn.
Sixth-graders may be more likely than younger students to follow the rules of maintaining social distance, but some children may find it difficult to adapt to the new environment. “Schools have an important role to play in children’s lives, providing them with a regular and informed learning environment,” Maynard said. But I don’t think that’s why kids should start school, I think it’s about the economy and children’s care. The problem is that this is likely to cost teachers. “
In addition, there are many scientists who object to getting children back to the classroom in a hurry. If children’s new coronary pneumonia infection rates are lower than in adults, they say, partly because they are less exposed to the virus, especially if many schools are closed. Children are not checked as often as adults because they tend to be mild or asymptomatic, the researchers said.
“I don’t think there’s any strong biological or epidemiological evidence that children are not affected by such a serious infection,” said Gary Wang, a researcher in pediatric respiratory medicine at the University of Chinese in Hong Kong. As long as there is mass transmission among adults, the reopening of schools may increase the spread of the virus. Moreover, a good system of supervision and testing must be in place before school starts. “
A study published April 27 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases analyzed families with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Shenzhen, China. The study found that children under the age of 10 are just as susceptible to infection as adults, but are less likely to develop severe symptoms. The discovery really scares everyone because it suggests that children may be spreading the infection in silence. If children are able to cause the virus to spread, the researchers believe, the number of infections could surge over the next period in countries where they are already in school.