The coronavirus is now spreading the most among the under-12 population in Spain, resulting in an increase in cases in schools. This is a moderate increase, with global figures indicating that the impact of it on the pandemic is still small. According to the Ministry of Education, only 0.38% of classes are in quarantine, up from the peak of 1.5% reached during the last school year. In addition, experts say that the vaccination of children aged 5 to 11, which begins on December 15, will have a positive impact on the outlook.
But the low global numbers are of little comfort to the thousands of families whose lives are turned upside down every week due to quarantines in education centers. Between November 29 and December 3, more than 50,000 students had to isolate themselves. According to epidemiologist Quique Bassat, many of these class quarantines are due to epidemics in their schools.
Here is an overview of the security measures currently in place to fight the pandemic in schools, the process to follow if a case has been detected and the options available to families in the event of a class quarantine.
What are groups of bubbles?
The general protocol maintained the so-called “bubble group” in early childhood education (for students up to three years old) and elementary schools (six to 11) for the current school year. This measure aims to avoid contact with other pupils and to reduce contagion. However, fifth and sixth graders (10 to 11) in elementary school can also opt for the minimum distance option established for older years, such as high school, Bachillerato (14 to 17) and training. professional (FP). In this system, desks should be 1.5 meters apart, which can be reduced to 1.2 meters – a lighter restriction that will be enforced by most parts of Spain. If the health situation deteriorates much more (at levels 3 and 4 of the traffic light system of the Ministry of Health), 1.5 meters will be the minimum distance for students in the third and fourth year of secondary school and those who finish their Bachillerato . The possibility of resuming partial learning at home will also be on the table. This school year, the bubble groups may be more numerous: up to 25 pupils in early childhood and 30 in primary.
Should vaccinated students self-quarantine if there is a case in their bubble?
The answer is no, but there are caveats. The general rules and government guide to Covid-19 cases in schools state that close contacts of a positive case should not be quarantined if they are vaccinated. This rule was in effect this school year for high school students, most of whom have been fully immunized, and also applies to school teachers who are vaccinated. The rule will now be extended to students aged five to 11 who have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Students who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months, which means they have natural immunity, are also exempt from quarantine.
The protocols, however, have exceptions. Students with weakened immune systems should self-quarantine even if they are fully immunized. Close contacts of a positive case caused by the omicron, beta or gamma variant of the coronavirus (or any strain considered a variant of concern by authorities) must also self-isolate. In a bubble group, all class members are considered close contacts. Sources from the Ministry of Health add that these directives, which the regions have adapted to their territories, are regularly reviewed.
For vaccinated students who are close contacts of a positive case, but who have not had to quarantine, Department of Health protocols specify that they must take two coronavirus tests. One should be taken as soon as the positive case has been detected, and another “about seven days after last contact with the confirmed case”. The guidelines recommend that they avoid contact with at-risk groups, do not attend large events, wear a face mask when socializing, limit their contact to “the groups with which they normally interact with. school ”and to be attentive to“ the possible appearance of compatible symptoms.
Who are the close contacts?
Other than family members who live in the same accommodation, all members of a student’s bubble group are close contacts. Like everyone in the school who has been in contact with the suspected positive case, i.e. they have been within two meters of the person, without a face mask, or using it incorrectly. In the case of patients with confirmed coronavirus infections, it is not necessary for them to take a diagnostic test before returning to class. For close contacts, this is recommended but not required.
How long should a student stay in quarantine?
If a suspected case of coronavirus is confirmed, the student should not attend school and should remain in isolation until they have gone three days without symptoms, and a minimum of 10 days from the start of their symptoms. Their close unvaccinated contacts must also remain in quarantine for 10 days from their last contact with the positive case.
What happens if there is an epidemic in a school?
If three or more related cases are detected in the same school, it is considered an epidemic. At that time, the organization designated to manage the outbreaks in each region will assess the situation. The measures that need to be implemented range, depending on the severity of the epidemic, from increasing preventive rules and isolating cases to quarantining schools, entire years and even the entire population. school, although the latter measure is seldom necessary. On November 26, for example, only three of the 29,058 schools registered by the Ministry of Education were closed.
Is wearing a mask still compulsory in Spanish schools?
Wearing a mask is generally compulsory in schools for pupils aged six and over, according to the protocol agreed by the central government and the regions. They can be removed under certain circumstances, such as consumption of food and drink, and outdoors, social distancing can be observed. Their use during physical education classes and recess varies from region to region. For example, in the Valencia region, they are not compulsory during gym classes, but they are at recess. In Catalonia, they are not needed at recess if the pupils are with their own classmates. In Madrid, regional authorities have approved the non-application of the wearing of masks during recess, but most schools have chosen not to adopt this measure.
How are cases of Covid managed in schools?
Teachers and students should stay away from school if they exhibit symptoms of Covid-19: fever, cough, feeling of lack of air, fatigue or diarrhea. The issue of body temperature sparked some controversy last year, as not all Spanish regions have set the same limit. For example, the Basque Country would not allow people to enter schools if they were above 37 ° C, while in Madrid and Extremadura the bar was set at 37.2 ° C. In any case, if the school in question detects symptoms in a student during the school day, they are taken to a separate area until their parents or guardians can pick them up and bring them home. There, they are to remain in isolation until they have the results of a coronavirus test. Teachers with symptoms should follow the same procedure. The other students and their teachers will continue to attend class normally until the results are received.
Am I entitled to paid leave to take care of my child in quarantine?
According to Jesús Lahera, professor of law and social security at the Complutense University of Madrid, the simple answer is no. There is a path, albeit increasingly narrow, which can be taken, and which has been used by parents for months. The process is for the father or mother to take leave due to temporary incapacity for work on the grounds that they are forced to self-quarantine given that they are in close contact with a child. However, given that such a high proportion of the Spanish adult population is vaccinated and fully vaccinated parents do not have to self-isolate if their child is positive, this option is virtually ruled out at this time. If the child becomes sicker and must be hospitalized, labor law already allows parents to take leave. In the case of preventive quarantine, that is, if the child is close contact with classmates who test positive, there is no possibility for the parent to take paid leave.
Are there special measures for these cases?
The government has extended the Mecuida plan until 2022. This allows employees who have to take care of a child in quarantine to request that their working day be adapted to the circumstances, or even reduced by up to 100% with the reduction of corresponding salary. Among the permitted changes are different shifts, flexible hours, working from home or changing responsibilities. Although this is established in law as a right, it is not automatically granted – the company can refuse, on the grounds that it “must be justified and be reasonable and proportionate having regard to the situation of the company”. What does it mean? That if the company refuses, the only option is to go to court, which must rule on the case as a matter of urgency. Does this happen in practice? According to Emilia de Sousa, de Sousa Abogados, writing on her website about a year ago, “companies don’t put up a lot of barriers to downsizing. [of working hours], but it is a luxury, a privilege, that a workers’ country absolutely cannot afford ”, given the loss of income that accompanies it. And in case of adaptation of working conditions, in case of refusal of the company, the case must be brought before the courts.
Are there alternatives to the Mecuida plan?
Caring for children with mild illness is a problem that affects families long before the arrival of Covid-19. Jesús Lahera underlines that many work agreements already provide for specific leave for these cases (paid or not) or for personal days. Again, the flexibility and discretion of the company in question will depend on its applicability to quarantines of a non-ill minor. Some companies also provide for the possibility of requesting short leave for the 10 days of the quarantine.