Those experiences and conclusions may offer hopeful guidance to societies still weighing how to get students and teachers back into primary and secondary classrooms.
Still, public health officials and researchers caution that most school reopenings are in their early stages. Much remains unknown about the interaction between children, schools and the virus. Schools have only reopened in countries where the virus is under better control than in many parts of the United States. And parents and teachers, especially in Europe, have been vocal about their concerns. It is premature to say, as President Trump put it this past week, that “In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS.”
While documented cases of younger students transmitting the virus to their classmates or to adults so far appear rare, there is enduring worry about the susceptibility of teens, college-age students and their teachers. And, especially in communities where the virus is still circulating widely, elaborate and expensive measures may be necessary to avoid shutting down entire schools each time a student tests positive.
Arnaud Fontanet, head of the Epidemiology of Emerging Diseases unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, said he “gladly” sent his four teenagers back when French schools reopened on a voluntary basis in mid-May. But he emphasized that was only because “the virus is not too much circulating in France.”
“High schoolers are still contagious and primary school students are less contagious but not zero-risk,” he said.
Little evidence of outbreaks linked to primary schools
Public health officials and researchers say they have not detected much coronavirus transmission among students or significant spikes in community spread as a result of schools being in session — at least for students under 12.
Virologists warn there may be additional spread that hasn’t been recognized, since testing asymptomatic people, particularly children, remains uncommon. But in many cases, young children who test positive have gotten it from someone in their family and do not appear to have infected others in school. Dig into reports of two or three elementary students with the virus, and often it turns out they’re siblings.
There are exceptions. At the École Louis-de-France, an elementary school in Trois Rivières, Canada, almost an entire class of 12 students tested positive in late May. And at the Cheondong Elementary School in Daejeon, South Korea, two brothers were found to have the virus on June 29, and two students who had contact with one of the brothers tested positive the next day.
Such cases, though, have been rare. Before the suspected transmission in Daejeon, South Korea’s education minister had emphasized that not a single student in the country had contracted the virus at school.
In Finland, when public health…