How schools in Norway will be different when they reopen

It’s been 21 weeks since Covid-19 caused a shutdown of the Norwegian borders and the country went into lockdown. After nine weeks of closure, schools began to reopen as a part of the country’s gradual reopening plan. Agnes Erickson outlines how schools and authorities are tackling the challenge.

How schools in Norway will be different when they reopen
Young pupils gather at the courtyard of their Vikåsen school in Trondheim, Norway, after the school reopened on April 27th, 2020. Photo: AFP

Classes resumed with heavy safety measures in place for the last part of the school year. With the summer holidays coming to an end, educational institutions are now facing the giant task of reopening safely again as numbers of infected Covid-19 cases are on the rise.

The National Model

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) created in May a national ‘traffic light’ model for all educational institutions in Norway. This is a guide for what infection control measures are to be followed under the pandemic.

A ‘green’ level means everyday school hours can run as normal, according to the guide to the system outlined by the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training.

If control measures are at ‘yellow’, the school must take measures to reduce physical contact and have more focus on hygiene. At the ‘red’ level, the school must minimize the number of students in a classroom and make individual decisions on the start and end of school days.

School staff are responsible for physical distance being held throughout the school day.

The traffic light model was set to ‘yellow’ on June 2nd, with schools and daycare planning for the autumn term on that basis.

The Biggest Challenges

With less than a week before the educational year is set to begin, administration and teachers are devising specific plans that work best for their community’s needs.

One of the biggest challenges for administration is organisational. There are plenty of times throughout the school day students naturally began to cluster. Free periods and the coming and going in classrooms are concerning times which need infection control plans in place. Communal areas are to be reevaluated for the safest form of use.

Both teachers and administration are responsible for finding alternative learning methods for students who suffer from chronic health conditions. Extra precaution must be taken.  Some schools have made the choice to designate one teacher fully to online studies so these students can learn safely from home.

Will teachers be discussing Covid -19 in classrooms?

“Teachers will be talking about hygiene and Covid-19. There will be discussions about the pandemic and what needs the students have. It’s important to have a continued focus on transmissible diseases and at the same time, ensure students feel safe and are taking necessary precautions,” Aslaug Reitan, vice-principal at Nyplass Skole in Vigeland, told The Local.


Daily routines

Teachers and staff face many changes, both small and large, regarding their daily work routines.

The communal coffee pot will now have a designated pourer in meetings or a bottle of hand sanitizer next to it. Planning days and staff meetings that take place throughout the year cannot be held in traditionally small faculty rooms.

For its first planning day, the Vigeland school has decided to separate staff into three groups, to be placed in three different rooms and interact with each other through video conference.

The biggest change from a normal school year

Vice-principal Aslaug said he believes physical distance would be the most noticeable change.

“The biggest difference from a normal school year is that both staff and students have to hold a physical distance from each other. One must think carefully about how to organise a school day, and how everyone involved can cooperate to avoid infection,” he said.


Hygiene practices

Cleaning personnel have been asked to have extra focus on all surface areas, while toilets and sinks will be cleaned multiple times throughout the school day.

Teachers will take extra initiative to ensure a clean learning environment and set allotted time for hand washing. Students will also have extra responsibility — they must to wipe down their desks or tables before coming and going.

The plan is to clean tablets, keyboards and learning materials every day, and toys that cannot be washed often will be removed.  

What the parents think

Aslaug said that one of the biggest concerns he had noted from parents is that they are worried their children will be missing out both socially and educationally: parents are keen to know exactly what measures the school is taking to ensure safety and have also asked for more detail on what schools are doing to establish a safe learning environment.

While the Directorate of Education has placed responsibility on school leaders to enforce the new national guidelines, they have also emphasised the need for everyone to contribute to the good operation of schools during the Covid-19 outbreak.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: MAP: Which countries are open for tourism to and from Norway?

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What are the current rules for Covid-19 self-isolation in Norway?

Norway's government have updated the country's self-isolation rules a few time in recent weeks. The latest changes mean less people will have to quarantine after being identified as a close contact.

Pictured is a house in Drøbak, south-eastern Norway.
These are the rules for self-isolation in Norway. Pictured is a house in Drøbak, south-eastern Norway. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

From Friday, January 14th, Norway’s self-isolation rules will change, and far fewer people will be required to quarantine as a result. 

“In the next few months, many will be infected, and sickness absence will be high. All companies and businesses need to prepare for it. Plans must be made to maintain the most normal operation possible in a demanding situation. The changes the government is now making in the requirements for infection quarantine will contribute to more people being able to live normally, even though there is a lot of infection in society,” Ingvil Kjerkol, health minister, said of the new rules in a government announcement.

Does the Covid variant affect the self-isolation period? 

The quarantine rules and length of time you need to self-isolate for will not change depending on which variant of Covid-19 you contract. 

Who has to quarantine? 

For obvious reasons, those who test positive for Covid-19 will be required to self-isolate. After that, those who share a household with the infected person, including flatmates who share a common kitchen and bathroom, will also need to quarantine themselves.

However, under the new rules, other close contacts will not need to self-isolate after coming into contact with somebody infected with Covid. Instead, they are asked to take tests on day’s 3 and 5 after being identified as a close contact. Furthermore, they will need to watch for symptoms for ten days and begin isolating if any signs or symptoms appear. 

Anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes and within two metres of somebody who tests positive for Covid is considered a close contact. 

Close contacts are typically friends, colleagues or classmates. However, contact tracing services will also consider those sitting nearby in restaurants and the like as close contacts. This applies regardless of vaccination status. 

READ ALSO: What are Norway’s Covid rules this Christmas?

How long is the isolation period? 

People who return a positive coronavirus test will need to quarantine themselves for six days starting from when they tested positive. The isolation will be a minimum of six days but will not end until the person has been fever-free for at least 24 hours without using fever-reducing medicine. 

Household members and partners will need to isolate themselves before testing after seven days. 

As mentioned earlier, other close contacts are no longer required to quarantine. 

If the test returns positive, then the quarantine rules will apply for those infected with the virus. 

What are the rules in quarantine? 

You will need to stay at home and only perform necessary errands that others can not do. This means you can’t go to work and you need to avoid public transport. 

You can go for a walk, but you need to distance yourself from others. 

You will also need to social distance at home, stay in a separate room and use a different bathroom if possible. You are also encouraged to frequently clean surfaces that are often touched. 

Is anybody exempt? 

There is no exemption from self-isolating as a household member or close contact if you are vaccinated. However, some groups are exempt. 

Everyone who has had Covid-19 in the previous three months can skip the isolation period. The same goes for those who have received a booster vaccine dose at least a week before coming into contact with someone with Covid. Instead, they will need to test themselves each day with a rapid home test or a PCR test carried out by a health professional every other day for seven days. 

Employees who have essential societal functions are not required to isolate, provided they test negative before starting work throughout the isolation period. 

Close contacts under 18 years of age will not need to isolate but are recommended to test for Covid-19.