Most of Europe kept schools open even during a worst-on-the-planet second wave of infections this fall. And still, schools appear to be relatively safe environments, public health officials say. As long as they adhered to a now-established set of precautions — mask-wearing, hand-washing, ventilation — schools are thought to have played only a limited role in accelerating coronavirus transmission in Europe.
Skeptics say schools aren’t doing enough testing to have a true sense of how much the virus is spreading. But communities with enough resources to conduct broader testing after possible exposure haven’t typically found many asymptomatic cases hiding among teachers and students. And because most European schools have embraced bubbles, where students and teachers mix only with their class and no one else, thorough contact tracing can be done in schools even when it falters in wider society.
“We are not seeing the tip of the iceberg; we are seeing the whole iceberg because of our good tracing,” said [Spanish pediatrician] Quique Bassat.
Overall, while some parents and teachers unions continue to have concerns, many European societies are broadly behind efforts to keep students in their classrooms. Advocates of in-person school say the cost of virtual classrooms for vulnerable students is steep, as is the economic toll of taking parents out of the workforce because their young children are at home.