Why some countries are opening schools while others stay closed: I think we’re still operating a bit in the dark’

They live just 1,000 kilometres from the first known case of coronavirus, and yet, for a brief moment on Monday, students at the Canadian International School of Guangzhou forgot about COVID-19.

The temporary break from reality came as their school reopened for the first time in 100 days. They ran towards each other, which was quickly intercepted by teachers’ commands.

“No! Social distancing! You can’t touch! It doesn’t matter if you have a mask on!” Canadian teacher Melissa Guzzo recalls saying. “Everybody was just bubbling because they haven’t physically seen each other in so long.”

While school is back in session for select grades, Guzzo said it is nothing like before. Each day, they are monitored by police and government officials as they enter and exit the school.

Students are expected to wear masks, undergo three daily temperature checks, stay two metres apart and use separate staircases from educators. The school also has a doctor and nurse on staff now and classrooms are capped at 24 students.

“We are a locked down campus so not even parents can go on site, only us that did the testing,” Guzzo said. “Teachers can’t leave so once they are on site they have to stay until the end of the day. If they leave, they are not allowed to come back until the next day, so it’s just minimizing all types of traffic.”

China, Denmark and New Zealand are among the first countries to reopen schools since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered education around the globe.

The director of the University of Waterloo’s School of Public Health and Health Systems said the varied reopening schedules are subject to “desires of people to return to normalcy.”

“I don’t think there’s much science behind it. I think we’re still operating a bit in the dark,” Craig Janes said. “We’re guessing on what might work.”

The medical anthropologist said school in Canada should not resume until testing increases and the number of COVID-19 cases drop significantly. With limited knowledge on children’s role in transmission, Janes is concerned that reopening schools could create a new breeding ground for the virus.

“We know that kids aren’t affected very much in terms of getting serious disease,” Janes said. “I worry a lot about the fact that kids mix. They mix with each other and then they go home to their parents and grandparents so the potential for schools to really be a focal point for a reemergence of outbreaks of the infection is a very serious risk.”

A few days into her school’s relaunch, Guzzo believes education centres can function post-pandemic, but it takes patience to adapt.

“My only advice is go slow. We all wanted to be back,” Guzzo said. “No matter how much we teach kids, ‘Be in your space’ and ‘Do this,’ kids will be kids.”


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