The debate on whether or not to open schools is raging and is fueled by the appearance of variants of the new coronavirus, the effect of which on children is still poorly understood. The WHO, she continues to recommend doing the maximum to avoid massive closures.
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Here are the main conclusions of the World Health Organization in a chapter of its weekly epidemiological report published Wednesday and devoted to the lessons learned from a year of pandemic in education.
When to close schools?
“School closures must be a last resort, they must be temporary and only at a local level in areas of intense transmission” of the virus, underlines the WHO, in unison with Unesco and Unicef, with regard to the impact on schoolchildren, in particular the most disadvantaged or the most vulnerable and fragile.
In addition, “several studies have shown that the reopening of schools did not correspond to significant increases in transmission in the community or to peaks in infection.”
“The evidence for the usefulness of closing schools to reduce transmission within the community is mixed,” notes the agency, while stressing that the discovery at the end of the year of new, more contagious variants “demands more. analyzes by sex and by age to measure if and how the impact of these new variants on children could differ ”from that of the original strain.
“If we find that children are more affected, public health measures may have to be adjusted,” recommends the WHO.
Are schools hotbeds of infection?
“Schools do not turn out to be hotbeds of super propagation except in a few cases where protective measures have not been well implemented,” notes the WHO.
For her, the rate of transmission in the community is reflected in school. “When transmission in the community is low and appropriate prevention measures are taken, children and schools are unlikely to be at the forefront of transmission,” the agency notes.
But conversely when infections increase “as has been the case for the past three months, prevention and protection measures are crucial to prevent transmission”.
Schools must also participate very actively in measures for early detection and limitation of the spread (tests, warning of contact cases and quarantines), which are part of the arsenal recommended by the UN agency to try to curb the pandemic. .
The WHO notes that for all the cases of Covid declared in 2020, those under 18 represent 8% of cases while they are 29% of the world population, that children under 10 years of age “are less susceptible and less infectious than older children ”. She cites a Norwegian study showing a “very low” rate of child-to-child and child-to-adult transmission in schools catering for 5-13 year olds and taking adequate sanitary measures.
Teens 16-18 years old transmit the virus as often as adults, according to the agency.
What risks for teachers?
The WHO is based on a study carried out in the United Kingdom which shows that “school staff run a lower risk in school when compared to the general adult population”.
Another study carried out in the United States with 57,000 nursery employees “shows that there is no increased risk of infection for the employees”.
What measures to control infections?
To protect themselves, the WHO asks schools to ensure they have good ventilation and hygiene practices (hand washing and cleaning surfaces).
The WHO recommends wearing a mask: children 12 years and over “should wear a mask on the same basis as adults” while teachers and school staff “should wear a mask when they cannot be sure to wear a mask. find at least 1 meter away in areas with high transmission rates ”.
Physical distancing must be ensured, for example, by limiting the number of students per class, avoiding mixing classes or even rotating them.
More restrictive measures may be necessary for older schoolchildren and in particular adolescents.