Jun 20, 2020 - Health

Keeping schools open worked in Sweden

Illustration of children's hands raised against a background of colorful shapes

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

UNESCO estimated in March that 91.3% of the world’s students were out of school. But Swedes under 16 were not among them.

Sweden’s iconoclastic approach was based on the belief that students faced little risk from coronavirus and far more from missing months of school.

What they're saying: Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, admits there were flaws in the country’s permissive approach to the virus — Sweden has a high death rate, particularly in nursing homes — but says there’s little evidence schools exacerbated the outbreak.

  • The risk to teachers was also lower than many feared.
  • While Sweden’s no-lockdown approach was shunned by its Nordic neighbors, health officials in Denmark and Norway came around to Sweden's stance on schools.
  • Both made reopening them one of their first steps out of lockdown. Neither has seen a resurgence since.

What it looks like: Denmark has placed elementary school students in pods of around 12. They eat lunch together, play together at recess, and are taught by one teacher in one socially distanced classroom.

  • Spacing restrictions often mean staggering arrival times or even the days on which students attend.
  • Some parents were unconvinced. The Danish Facebook group "My Child Will Not Be a Guinea Pig for COVID-19" grew to 40,000 members after schools reopened in April.
Go deeper