Why it's (mostly) safe to reopen schools

Here we can learn a great deal from the experience of other industrialized countries. Iceland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Germany, Finland, France and Sweden reopened schools in April and May, and their experience has been largely positive. Every European country that reopened schools in the spring plans to start the fall school year on time.

These countries have taken several different approaches to reopening. Denmark, the first country to reopen schools, announced its plan on April 6, just as Covid-19 cases were peaking there and elsewhere in Europe. Kindergartens and elementary schools reopened the following week in order to help working parents; children over 12 followed a month later. The Netherlands announced its plan in mid-April and also took a staggered approach when it began opening in May. Germany had similar timing but started with older students, on the premise that adolescents would be more likely to adhere to distancing and hand-washing guidelines. Sweden has kept its schools open throughout the pandemic for those under 16 and reopened high schools and colleges in mid-June.

The results, thus far, have been pretty consistent across these countries. Denmark trod carefully, requiring children to stay 2 meters apart wherever possible. Children were grouped into “bubbles” of 12 and were required to wash their hands every two hours but not to wear masks. It worked. Denmark’s case and mortality counts continued to decline after reopening schools, according to data from the European CDC, leading Peter Andersen of the Danish Serum Institute to conclude that “you cannot see any negative effects from the reopening of schools.”