How Other Countries Reopened Schools During the Pandemic – and What the U.S. Can Learn From Them
By Bob Spires
As American school officials debate when it will be safe for schoolchildren to return to classrooms, looking abroad may offer insights. Nearly every country in the world shuttered their schools early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have since sent students back to class, with varying degrees of success.
I am a scholar of comparative international education. For this article, I examined what happened in four countries where K-12 schools either stayed open throughout the pandemic or have resumed in-person instruction, using press reports, national COVID-19 data and academic studies.
Here's what I found.
Israel: Too Much, Too Soon
Israel took stringent steps early on in the coronavirus pandemic, including severely restricting everyone's movement and closing all schools. By June, it was being lauded internationally for containing the spread of COVID-19.
But shortly after schools reopened in May, on a staggered schedule paired with mask mandates and social distancing rules, COVID-19 cases surged across Israel. Schoolchildren and teachers were among the sick. Today, several hundred Israeli schools have closed again.
But schools were only part of a broader reopening in Israel that, many experts say, came too soon and without sufficient testing capacity.
"The reopening happened too fast," said Mohammed Khatib, an epidemiologist on Israel's national COVID-19 task force. "It was undertaken so quickly that it triggered a very sharp spike, and the return to more conservative measures came too little, much too late."
Israel's public health director, Siegal Sadetski, resigned in early July, saying the health ministry had ignored her warnings about reopening schools and businesses so rapidly.
Sweden: A Hands-Off Approach
Schools never closed in Sweden, part of the Scandinavian country's risky gamble on skipping a coronavirus lockdown. Only students 16 and older stayed home and did remote learning. Social distancing and masks were recommended but optional, in line with the Swedish government's emphasis on personal choice.
This strategy earned praise from President Donald Trump but some resistance from Swedish parents, especially those whose children have health issues. The government threatened to punish parents who didn't send their kids to school.
Sweden's plan seems to have been safe enough. Its health agency reported on July 15 that COVID-19 outbreaks among Sweden's 1 million school children were no worse than those in neighboring Finland, which did close schools. And pediatricians have seen few severe COVID-19 cases among school-age children in Stockholm. Only one young Swedish child is believed to have died of the coronavirus as of this article's publication.
However, officials in Stockholm have admitted they don't know how the disease may have affected teachers, parents and other adults in schools.
Sweden had over 70,000 COVID-19 cases as of July 21, which puts it in the middle of the pack in Europe, according to a joint study from Sweden's Upsala University and the University of Virginia. Of those, slightly more than 1,000 involved children and teens.
Japan: So Far, So Good
Different schools have different strategies, but generally Japanese students attend class in person on alternating days, so that classrooms are only half full. Lunches are silent and socially distanced, and students undergo daily temperature checks.
A survey from Save the Children found that Japanese school children wanted more clear and detailed information about the virus and the outbreaks. Parents, students and teachers continue to express hesitancy about returning to school and displeasure over reopening measures.
Uruguay: A+ for Safety
Analysts credit Uruguay's well-organized and efficient public health system and Uruguyans' strong faith in government for its success stopping the coronavirus. The progressive South American country of 3.4 million has the region's lowest rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and it never shut down its economy entirely.
Uruguay was one of the Western Hemisphere's first countries to send its students back to school, using a staged approach.
In late April, Uruguay reopened schools in rural areas, where the student population is small. In early June, it brought vulnerable student groups, which were struggling to access online learning, and high school seniors back into classrooms. Then all students in non-urban areas went back to classrooms.
Finally, on June 29, 256,000 students in the capital of Montevideo returned to school. An alternating schedule of in-person and virtual instruction reduces the number of students in classrooms at one time.
Uruguay is notable for residents' consistent and early adoption of measures like social distancing and masks. Its successful pandemic response comes despite its proximity to hard-hit Brazil, where schools remain closed.
There is no perfect way to reopen schools during a pandemic. Even when a country has COVID-19 under control, there's no guarantee that schools can reopen safely.
But the policies and practices of countries that have had some initial success with schools point in the same direction. It helps to slowly stage the reopening. Strict mask wearing and social distancing is critical, both in schools and surrounding communities. And both officials and families need reliable and up-to-date data so that they can continually assess outbreaks – and change course quickly if necessary.
That complicates school reopenings in the U.S., with its soaring COVID-19 cases, limited testing capacity and decentralized education system. Most countries have national education systems. In the U.S., school officials in all 50 states must sort through the same politicized messaging and confusing data as everyone else to make their own decisions about whether, when and how to welcome back students.
Bob Spires is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Richmond.
Disclosure statement: Bob Spires does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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By Gianna-Carina Grün
While the first countries are easing their lockdowns, others are reporting more and more new cases every day. Data for the global picture shows the pandemic is far from over. DW has the latest statistics.
What's the Current Global Trend?<p>The goal for all countries is to make it to the blue part of the chart and stay there. Countries and territories in this section reported zero new cases both this week (past seven days) and the week before.</p><p>Currently, that is the case for 14 out of 209 countries and territories. </p>
How Has the Covid-19 Trend Evolved Over the Past Weeks?<p>The situation has improved slightly: 87 countries report more cases this week than last week. </p>
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