No masks, no distancing: Schools in Denmark challenge COVID-19 – successfully so far

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Every seat in Jens Rodgaard’s 5th grade class is full – there is no physical distance.When a student raises their hand with a question, Rodgaard is by their side in an instant and leans in to help.

“You have to be around them and help them, help them with the spelling, help them make choices, and for good teaching we can’t do that with distance,” Rodgaard said.

Students should sanitize their hands every time they enter school, and the grades are not expected to mix with each other. But there is no mask in sight.

This is what Phase 2 of the school reopened at Alholm Public School in Copenhagen, Denmark looked like this week, a month after the start of the second semester.

“Right now we are trying to make things as normal as possible, [to] does not scare any child, ”said Rodgaard, who has taught at Alholm for 28 years.

WATCH | Renée Filippone reports the reopening of schools in Denmark:

Schools in Denmark are now in phase 2 reopening and have lifted some restrictions relating to COVID-19. There have been cases and outbreaks in schools, but they have not been widespread. 2:49

The school’s goal is to make the education experience as normal as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other schools have more rules in place. At this point, Denmark is allowing each school to develop their own COVID-19 safety plans.

Right now, the country’s strategy of containing the coronavirus appears to be working. Countries around the world have looked to the Danish model to design their own school plans, including Canada.

The hygiene standard was the “first priority”

Denmark has not been hit as hard by COVID as other countries in Europe, such as Italy and Spain, but it was locked down in March nonetheless. When the government began to remove restrictions, it prioritized opening schools over bars and restaurants. The rules were strict at the time amid fears there would be epidemics.

Alholm principal Soren Vith said getting close to students came with risks, but he wanted the school experience to be as normal as possible. (Lily Martin / CBC)

“Our first priority was to make sure the hygiene standard was good,” said Alholm manager Soren Vith, who followed all government-mandated protocols during Phase 1 of the reopening.

Additional teachers were hired so that classes could be divided into three groups, breaks were staggered, each class was assigned to a specific washroom, and where possible learning was done outside.

12-year-old student Saida Sey was happy that they reopened schools in April as she said the lockdown was a nuisance. “It’s really fun having your friends again, talking to them and playing football. ”

But she admitted that when school started the virus was very important. “It was really hard, you can’t stop thinking about it. ”

Her classmate Jeppe Rank Gjerulff also recalled being nervous: “I was a little scared because no one knew what it was – what if you got sick? “

Grade 5 students Jeppe Rank Gjerulff, left, Saida Sey, center, and Yusuf Karimi talk about their experiences of going to school during a pandemic. They admit they were nervous at first. (Lily Martin / CBC)

Cooperation between government and teachers

Vith said the strict restrictions were working: No one at his school tested positive for COVID-19 in the spring. A few schools across the country have seen outbreaks, but there has been no spike in overall infections attributed to the reopening.

This is why the government felt safe moving to phase 2 of its plan when the second school semester began in August.

“It is up to the schools to see what is the best way forward for us with our children,” said Dorte Lange, vice-president of the Danish teachers’ union.

She attributes the success in Denmark to the cooperation between the government and the teachers’ union, and said they were in constant communication and addressed staff concerns from the start.

Dorte Lange, vice-president of the Danish teachers’ union, attributes the cooperation with the government to the success of the plan to reopen schools in Denmark. (Lily Martin / CBC)

Lange said the teachers’ confidence had rubbed off. “Parents met teachers who felt safe about it. Telling them that we can cope with this situation also made the parents feel safe, and that is very important. “

Regarding trends

The return to school has led to worrying trends in other parts of the world. In Israel, for example, schools re-opened in May, but the spread of the virus has forced hundreds of people to close and is blamed for the re-emergence of COVID in that country.

In the United States, some schools in Texas and Georgia were forced to close shortly after reopening in August.

Lange said teachers’ unions in Canada have contacted her for advice. She is happy to give advice, but said it was impossible to compare Denmark and a country like Canada because the COVID experience in the two countries was different.

Denmark has a population of only 5.8 million people, spread out and not concentrated in large cities in the same way as in Canada. Denmark has recorded nearly 20,000 cases in total with around 600 deaths, while Canada has recorded more than 135,000 cases and around 9,000 deaths.

Like most countries around the world, Denmark is currently experiencing a peak in cases, especially among people in their 20s.

Virologist Allan Randrup Thomsen has expressed concern about the recent spike in cases across Denmark. (Lily Martin / CBC)

“I think we’ve become too relaxed, and I think we might become the victim of our own success, because we’ve never seen how bad the epidemic can be,” said Allan Randrup Thomsen, virologist at the University of Copenhagen.

He said if the current peak continues, more restrictions will be placed on the Danish population. But closing schools again should be the last option.

“Most of the evidence indicates that even if children are infected, they are not seriously ill and they also do not transmit the disease,” said Randrup Thomsen, although he admits that a lot remains unknown.

He is more concerned about the spread among teens and young adults returning to college and university.

‘Take a deep breath’

At the gate of Alholm’s school this week, there was a relaxed attitude among the parents. It was like a pre-COVID scene. They brushed their shoulders and chatted to each other.

That said, COVID rules have prevented them from going on school property.

This week, it was reported that 18 classes from a school in Roskilde, a town west of Copenhagen, were sent home after coronavirus infection.

Parents drop their children off at Alholm School, where the second semester of education has been underway since the start of the pandemic. (Lily Martin / CBC)

Some Alholm parents admitted they were worried when they first sent their children back to school, but felt it was necessary. Katja Barefoot, who has three young children in school, gave this advice to Canadian parents.

“Take a deep breath and let them go again, and if anything happens you take the precautions… but life has to go on.”

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