- Germany has joined a handful of countries in beginning to reopen schools.
- All schools are taking precautions to protect against the coronavirus, but a high school in northern Germany is taking an extra step by testing staff and students twice a week.
- Some experts argue that testing can be misleading, since they may result in a number of false positives, which can lead to unnecessary isolations.
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In late April, Germany joined a handful of countries in beginning to reopen its schools, and each one is taking precautionary measures to protect against the coronavirus pandemic. Students and staff at a high school in Neustrelitz, a town in northern Germany, may feel more at ease since the school is in a position to administer coronavirus tests twice a week, according to The New York Times.
When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, schools across the globe temporarily shut their doors to help slow its spread, affecting about 1.6 billion students worldwide. Germany was able to avoid mass casualties by shutting down public life early on and by ramping up testing before other countries did (though it is now starting to see an uptick in cases again).
On April 20, Germany began reopening schools – starting with high schoolers, who are able to understand and practice safe hygiene practices. Each of the country’s 16 states is responsible for deciding how schools will reopen, and what measures should be taken, according to Reuters. At the very least, schools will space out desks 5 feet apart. They will be equipped with handwashing stations and a sufficient amount of disinfectants, according to Deutsche Welle.
The Neustrelitz high school was offered free coronavirus kits, enabling the school to test staff and students biweekly, The New York Times reported. Without the donation, the school would not have been in the financial position to pay for the kits, which cost $US44 a piece.
While consistent testing may be helpful, the process also has its limitations, said Dr. Kelly Fradin, a paediatrician who practices in New York City.
The tests are expensive and, in many cases, they’re more likely to identify false positives than true positives, Fradin said.
“These false positives may result in unnecessary isolations, school closures and quarantines,” Fradin said. “The test is only as good as the specimen obtained.”
The other issue, Fradin noted, is that when people are asked to administer the test themselves, which is the case in the high school in Germany, it is likely to be a lower quality swab and less likely to identify disease.
Frequent handwashing and small class sizes are crucial to preventing the spread of the coronavirus in schools
The most important interventions in schools, according to Fradin, is frequent handwashing and decreasing the number of students in one classroom at a time. While wearing masks could be helpful, it’s likely that children will touch their masks and potentially spread infection that way. Fradin noted that each school will require tailored prevention tactics.
“A one size fits all plan is unlikely to be successful since schools have different exposure, staffing, infrastructure, and age groups to work with,” Fradin said.
One key question that still remains to be answered as schools prepare to reopen is the role children play in contracting and transmitting the disease. While the rates of coronavirus cases and related deaths from the disease among children remain low, it’s still unclear whether children are silently spreading the disease, or if the virus stops with them.
“Pediatricians are also watching in earnest to learn whether kids are ‘super spreaders’, ‘viral dead ends’ or most likely somewhere in between,” Fradin said. “I am hopeful that our youngest children may be less likely to acquire and spread the virus.”
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