PARIS – As the second lock seemed inevitable amid rapidly rising coronavirus infections, researchers advising the French government in October warned that keeping students in their classrooms meant it would take longer to control the wave.
The government kept schools open anyway, even as the country became the epicenter of the second wave of coronavirus in Europe. French leaders have decided to try to control the wave, while trying to minimize economic and academic damage by leaving children to study where they do best: at school.
Five weeks after the second blockade across the country, France, as well as much of Europe, has shown that it is possible to reduce the rate of known infections, even in open schools.
Many European countries, including France, have made the opposite choice: to keep schools open but to close restaurants and bars.
In France, 11% of coronavirus tests return positive, but students continue to attend school, while New York closes its public schools on November 19 after the percentage of positive tests reached 3%.
But recent studies show that young children are at least low carriers of the virus, and at least some US officials are rethinking their approach: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio suddenly decided to reopen primary schools on Sunday, while closing upper classes and other areas in the country have taken or announced similar moves.
Allowing schools to remain open was one of the most significant deviations from Europe’s initial conclusions last spring.
“The first lock was awful,” said the Marine, who watched his two daughters play in a Parisian park full of wheelchairs and masked parents after school last afternoon.
During the earlier lock, the whole family stayed inside, she said, and Ms. Huguenin and her husband took care of their children during the day, then caught up at work between 9:30 p.m. and 1 p.m.
The figures tell the story of France’s progress so far. In early November, the number of new cases in France over a seven-day period rose to more than 80 per 100,000 people; as of Sunday, it has dropped to 17 per 100,000.
“Obviously the decline is slower as schools are open, but we had to find a middle ground,” said Yazdan Yazdanpanakh, an infectious disease specialist and member of the French Scientific Council who advises the government on the pandemic. But, he added, the slower decline in infections is offset by positive effects on education, mental health and the economy.
The compromise is usually well received in an otherwise controversial blockade, during which more and more people are challenging traffic and business restrictions.
In Paris, keeping schools open changed the mood in a city that in the spring experienced one of the toughest blockades in the world.
At the time, Paris felt like a ghost town, with every inch of the city – from small residential streets to the Champs-Elysées – deserted. This time things look much closer to normal. The chairs are arranged in closed cafes and restaurants. But neighborhoods come alive in the morning and afternoon, when parents take their children to and from school and older students linger on the sidewalks with studied indifference.
Clusters have sprung up in schools across France, although not in alarming numbers, said Dr Yazdanpanah, an infectious disease specialist.
With open classrooms, parents were able to focus on working from home or traveling to work, which helped blunt the second blow to the economy.
The Bank of France estimates that economic activity this month will be 12 percent below normal – far less than the 31 percent decline in April.
Most European countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Spain, keep schools open, although the continent remains among the hardest hit. Several countries, such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy, have closed schools, in part or in full.
Twelve million primary and secondary school students in the country are involved in online learning, but soon teachers and education officials warned that many children were lagging behind.
“This has strengthened our conviction to keep schools open for education and social reasons,” said Sophie Venetitai, a teacher and union employee.
Meanwhile, new research shows that despite early fears, keeping schools open, albeit without risk, can be relatively safe as long as there are rules to limit the spread of the virus.
In August, a report published by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control stated that the evidence “showed that the closure of kindergartens and educational institutions was unlikely to be an effective single measure to control the transmission of Covid-19 from the community. “.
Most studies on transmission now show that children under the age of 10 spread the virus less effectively than adults, but teenagers become infected and spread the virus just as much as adults. So the safe opening of high schools is more complicated, especially if the transmission from the community is high – it makes the rules of social distancing even more important.
After the first wave of the epidemic was contained, France saw that infections began to rise again in August, when people resumed socialization and the government failed to effectively implement public health measures for testing, monitoring and isolation.
By October, infections were growing rapidly in most of Europe.
But even after a warning from his scientific advisers, President Emmanuel Macron announced that schools in France would remain open as minor companies were ordered to close. “Our children cannot be deprived of education, education, contact with the school system forever,” he said.
Henri Bergeron, a sociologist at the Paris Institute for Political Studies, an elite university known as Science Po, and co-author of Covid-19: An Organizational Crisis, said: “This time, health priority is mixed with economic priority. “
To address concerns as balloon cases occurred, educators tightened the rules slightly, including reducing the age for wearing masks to a 6-year-old from 11. Many schools stretched to hours so parents could drop out and drop out. take their children, and adapted the lunch periods to reduce the crowd. In many high schools, students now take turns spending half their days at school and the rest at home.
Three months after the school year in France, schools have not become a major driver of infections, according to health experts. And the number of students who tested positive in the seven days ended Thursday fell 44 percent from the previous week, according to the education ministry. The latest figure is 0.06% of the 12 million students in France.
On Friday, out of 61,500 schools across the country, only 19 primary schools, three secondary schools and three high schools were closed due to outbreaks.
Outside the Turgot High School in Paris, small groups of students talked and smoked after school on a final afternoon. Some said they think students are infected outside of school when they meet on weekends, sometimes at classmates’ parties.
17-year-old Jana Pifo said that it is difficult for her to study alone and she cannot ask questions to her teachers personally.
“I’m worried that the situation will get worse,” she said, “and that schools will eventually close.”
The reports were contributed by Alison McCann in London, Monica Davy in Chicago, Ellen Barry in Boston, Thomas Fuller in San Francisco and Apoorva Mandavili, Eliza Shapiro and Sarah Mervosh in New York.