Covid-19: After the start of the school year, what do we know about the circulation of the virus in school?

It is a public health decision that also carries a significant symbolic charge. As of October 4, the obligation to wear a mask in primary school will be lifted in the departments least affected by the epidemic. Three weeks after a return to school that raised concerns from certain specialists about the increase in Covid-19 cases, the government is preparing to introduce flexibility in health limitations.

In the national territory, it is true that the epidemic situation is improving everywhere. The incidence rate, that is, the number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants during a week, decreases globally and, according to the latest data, around forty departments have an incidence rate of less than 50. But the epidemic figures are decreasing every day. , and other territories may soon fall into this category.

A smaller decrease in the unvaccinated

Is it true that the school escapes the black scenario of a high resumption of contamination among a young population, mostly not vaccinated? “It is going much better than some had anticipated,” concedes pediatrician and epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux, head of the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital (Paris), who points out, however, that there is still a lack of data to know if there may be “a rebound”. Same observation within Public Health France: “It is still a bit early to claim victory but the data that comes to us is quite reassuring, the start of the school year does not seem to be accompanied by an increase in pollution,” he commented on Friday. epidemiologist Daniel Lévy-Bruhl.

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The latest data by age group published by Santé Publique France shows the number of positive tests up to last week (September 19). They show that the incidence rate is declining among the youngest, but much less rapidly than in middle and high school populations.

Between August 9 and September 19, the incidence rate among 15-17 year olds (a population eligible for vaccination) dropped from more than 357 to 76, a drop of nearly 80%. During the same period of time, the incidence continued to increase in 3-5 years, from 96 to 99 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. However, since September 6, the number of cases in this category has decreased. “Traffic in the school only reflects the traffic of the general population, but you still have to be vigilant for two or three weeks because you don’t know exactly what is going on there, there are no fairly regular exams and we don’t know if people are being tested. asymptomatic “, comments Mahmoud Zureik, epidemiologist, professor of public health at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. At school, in the younger populations and therefore in the least vaccinated, the decline seems less important than elsewhere. What to be aware of according to this epidemiologist: “In 0-9 the decrease is less than in other age groups, this probably reflects a low noise circulation. But the important thing is that we do not see an outbreak of hospitalizations, and this encourages us to continue applying the protocol. ”

“You must not touch the mask”

Another sign, that of the closing of classes. According to the protocol, the detection of a case in a class leads to its closure. Since the start of the school year, the number of classes that have had to close due to Covid cases has continued to rise, but is now decreasing. While on September 13, the Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, estimated the number of closed classes at just over 3,000, this figure dropped to less than 2,400 on Thursday, according to the latest tally by the ministry.

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If the dynamics are encouraging, the return of new cases in this population also raises fears of repercussions in older populations. “Is a rebound likely to be communicated to the whole of society? With the vaccination rate for parents there are fewer risks”, hopes Renaud Piarroux. Therefore, the important thing for some is not to touch the health protocol in the classes. “Nothing should be changed in the health protocol in schools, and not touching the mask for an unvaccinated population, these measures allow to limit circulation, so let’s keep them,” insists Mahmoud Zureik.

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