The number of people contaminated keeps on increasing in France, departments are placed in lockdown again every day, but the government persists: schools will only close as a last resort. To guarantee maximum safety against the virus to children and teachers, despite the current health situation, Olivier Véran says he and Jean-Michel Blanquer are working on a new strengthened health protocol in schools in the 19 departments involved in the new curbing measures.
Meaasures decided a week ago by the government. "Elementary pupils are less contaminated than junior high school students, who are even less contaminted than high school students", the minister explains. He also confirmed that it was necessary to "reinforce health measures in the school environment".
Therefore, new measures are expected starting "next week", namely Monday March 28, 2021. Statring with the closure of each school class "as soon as one contamination case" is confirmed. Furthermore, the minister revealed that 148 schools and 3,256 classes are closed because of Covid-19. The minister also confirmed that high schools are running in half-capacity in the 19 departments in question.
During the latest press brief on March 25, the Health Minister explained "the virus can also be given at school. With Minister of the National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer, we are working on strengthened protocols. We are also designing testing campaigns and close classes and schools".
What is the current protocol?
This Friday February 12, 2021 the National Education Minister has released a new version of their FAQ to help teachers and parents. This document completes the health protocol updated this past February 1, 2021 to guarantee safety in all schools, junior high schools, and high schools.
The 33-page document to download from the National Education Ministry website reads that teachers are not systematically considered as contact cases. Another modification changing from what the Health Directorate General that required closing classes as soon as a variant is found.
The FAQ highlights in yellow that "the best way to deal with a confirmed case of UK variant is the same as for the general case in compliance with the health authorities' guidelines": namely closing classes after 3 known cases of the UK variant - excluding otherwise decided by the ARS. Two lines later, the same document insists on the closing of a class and putting all students as contact clases from the very first case of SA or Brazilian variant found in one pupil. The document also precises that "the breakout of one of the variants in one staff member does not systematically lead to the closure of the class".
The 33-page document completes and even clarifies the health protocol. The latest protocol has been reviewed this past February 1, 2021 to "include evolutions made necessary by the evolution of the spread of the virus noticed in January 2021 and especially in the context of the emergence of variants. It applies starting February 1, 2021. It relies on successive reports from HCSP including the one as of January 20, 2021. 2-meter distance between groups in the canteen, and type 1 "all-public" facecovers are now required, airing is reinforced", the foreword reads.
What are the guidelines implemented?
Children over 11 must systematically wear a facecover. Yet, "professionals in contact with the population" (teachers, teacher's aides, teaching assistants, school life, and so on) must systematically wear a general public category 1 facemask fitting the recommandations from the AFNOR. "Hand-made" facemasks are no longer recommended/
As for facemasks worn by teachers, the HCSP adds that general public masks not meeting the category 1 specifications from the Afnor are not recommended for professionals in contact with children/pupils.
Contaminations and contact-cases
Major change in this health protocol: from now on, when a child tests positive for Covid-19, they shall stay home but class can "go on as usual for the other pupils, who are no longer considered as contact-cases". National Education Minister adds that classes would close only from 3 contamination cases in the class.
Excluding in the event of variants: National Education FAQ says that "when reported by the ARS, in the event variant is found in staff or pupil, the class will close". They add that while waiting for approval "the measure to close the class (or even the level or school) shall be approved on a case-by-case basis". Contact cases will have to take a PCR test, and children contaminated by a variant will have to self-isolate for at least 10 days and take another test to confirm they are no longer carrying the variant.
Furthermore, kindergartens will now close for a week when a pupil is diagnosed positive for Coronavirus.
1-meter distance between each student
A topic often talked about in companies, the 4sqm per person idea, that is to say 1 meter apart on each side. At school, social distancing is not mandatory in closed spaces "when distancing is not physically possible". Are then concerned classrooms, workshops, libraries, canteens, and boarding schools. Protocol only says that "places [will be] organized in a way to maintain the biggest distance possible between pupils."
2-meter distance between each group in the canteen
The new protocol says that "first, mixing students with different levels shall absolutely be prevented". Students from the same class shall have lunch together "keeping at least two meters between those from other classes". A measure to be instated "on February 8 at the latest".
Moreover, "cafeteria tables will be cleaned up and disinfected at least after each shift, and if possible, after each meal".
Access to playgrounds and common spaces
The protocol precises the access to playgrounds, benches and outdoor common spaces is once again allowed. Items such as balloons, toys, books and even newspapers can be shared within the same class or the same group.
Washing hands regularly
The protocol says that people must wash their hands at least "when arriving at school, before each meal, after going to the bathroom, before going back home". The minister reminds that they must wash their hands thoroughly for 30 seconds and dry them with disposable paper towel.
And what if there are not enought water points? "If there are not enough water points, using hand sanitizer is possible, included for the youngest if thoroughly supervised by an adult" the protocol explains too.
Airing and cleaning classrooms
The minister's protocol says that classes must be aired frequently, at least 10 minutes every 3 hours. Classes must be aired before pupils arrive, during breaks, at lunch break, and in the evening, after they have been cleaned up.
Given the risk of spreading the virus if not good airing, school heads will have to make sure AC systems work well and are maintained well.
As for cleaning surfaces frequently touched such as door handles, they will have to be cleaned up at least once a day. So will be floors and large surfaces. Another detail from the protocol, canteen tables will be cleaned up and disinfected "after each shift".