The COVID-19 infection figures continue to rise and with them the fear: How long can regular school operations be maintained? Experts warn of renewed school closings and recommend specific measures.
The german society for virology (Gesellschaft für Virologie e.V.) warns against the assumption that children do not play any role in the pandemic and in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The scientific studies published to date on infection rates among children and their role in the pandemic are still insufficient. It must also be considered that the majority of the studies were carried out at a time when extensive contact restrictions were in place. Current observations support the conclusion that the initially assumed minimal role of children must be called into question. For the health of the children and society as a whole, hygiene and safety measures at schools are indispensable.
Compliance with hygiene rules is essential
The three main precautionary measures are therefore an effective strategy for protecting against the coronavirus: maintain social distancing, observe hygiene rules, wear masks. To maintain the required distance of 1.5 meters, children must avoid all body contact. They must refrain from hugging and touching others. In addition, the composition of classes and study groups must be kept constant so that infection chains can be traced and quickly interrupted, if necessary. The most important part of the hygiene rules also in schools is regular hand washing and disinfection. The education authorities recommend the first hand washing has to take place immediately after entering the school. Masks are generally required on the school grounds and in the buildings of secondary schools but not in the classroom. Individual states with high infection rates, such as Bavaria and North-Rhine Westphalia, have also required masks in the classroom at times.
In addition to social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks, there is one other important topic to consider: ventilation. The chance of infection with the SARS-CoV-2virus is much higher in closed rooms than outdoors. Scientists therefore recommend carrying out intense ventilation regularly every 20 minutes for a period of five minutes. Certainly, a topic to be addressed at the “school summit” as temperatures grow colder. The ministers of education want to discuss with experts whether additional ventilation systems should be installed in classrooms.
Emotional distress rises among students
Policymakers and scientific experts want to avoid another complete school shutdown if possible since the consequences are drastic. No school, lack of daily structure and loneliness have already had a psychological impact on many students since the start of the pandemic. A survey by the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf shows that over 70 percent of the surveyed children are experiencing emotional distress due to the corona crisis. Stress, fear and depression have increased.
Complete closures must be prevented
To avoid complete closures, experts and policymakers are pursuing the same strategy. “We must prepare ourselves for better and faster testing in the autumn, and this must also apply to teachers and students,” says Charité virologist Christian Drosten.
Federal Minister of Education Anja Karliczek is also calling for rapid testing: “Potentially affected children must enter quarantine as quickly as possible and then also be tested.” In some German states, teachers can already voluntarily have themselves tested for SARS-CoV-2at no cost, even if they are symptom-free.