Thursday, May 28, 2020

Day 73-Coronavirus-Post-Lockdown-Phase 1 France - the first few weeks after

Easing out of Lockdown - Opening of schools - living a new kind of life

I'm not sure if time is passing quickly or slowly these days.  We are eager to return to normal life but at the same time cautious and concerned about the spread of Coronavirus.  Since May 11 - we have had more freedom here in France but to be honest, returning to a "new" normal has taken some time. 

If you read my last post, we were eagerly awaiting for May 11 to see if the government would give the green light of lifting many of the restrictions.  And yes, - due to a very small percentage of the virus still circulating, our region of Nouvelle Aquitaine,  as with many other parts of France - the restrictions were lifted and new protocols were put in place.  Yes, life isn't exactly like it was before, but we do have more freedoms.

We can go out and about when needed without documentation & travel within 100km. Many stores and businesses reopened but with new sanitary measures put in place.  Stores reopened, most requiring masks when you enter.  Public transport - masks are also required.  Hair salons reopened - again - mask wearing is required of both the hair stylist and the client.  To walk outside, masks are not required, but social distancing is required.  Masks are required outside in areas that are more crowded - like our Pedestrian shopping street in Bordeaux - St. Catherine street.  Stores are asked to limit the number of people inside and to provide hand sanitizer at the door for people to use both coming in and going out.  It's definitely a new style of living and being more aware.  We can socialise and gather with friends, but for now it's limited to 10 people. Some parks are reopened but not playgrounds.  Beaches are reopened but in an active version - meaning one can swim, surf or run/walk along the beach but no sitting, picnicking or sunbathing.  (Trying to minimize crowds)  Restaurants, bars and cafes are not open yet, nor hotels.  It's definitely strange to go to Bordeaux but not be able to stop for a drink, or coffee.

Probably the most controversial change has been the re-opening of schools.  As I explained in my last post, they did make it optional for parents, but at the same time encouraged children to return with new health precautions put in place.  This opening was for regions of France where the virus was minimally circulating.  The elementary schools started progressively returning the week of May 11 and the 6th &7th graders at the middle schools started back the week of May 18.  They will make the decision about 8th & 9th graders and high schoolers in the beginning of June.

For schools to reopen, classes had to be limited to no more than 15, schools had to decide how the students were returning.  Many elementary schools chose to split the classes in half and each group returning 2 days/week - Mon/Tues or Thursday/Friday. (For elementary schools - there is no school on Wednesdays).  Masks were not required by elementary age students and each school could decide what worked best for their school.

For my daughter's middle school - they defined the new protocols based on 5 fundamental goals:
To maintain physical distance between all people.
To respect each other's personal space - min. 1.5 metres
To limit the flow and the crowding of students
To clean and disinfect the whole school.
To send information and communication to all families and school personnel.

The 2 entrances of the school will be divided to enter only and exit only.  
Students when arriving will go directly to the center court and find their groups (already marked out for appropriate social distancing).  

There will be hand sanitizer available in the halls & at the entrance for all.  It's recommended that students also bring their own and wearing of masks is required by all (students and staff)  in the hallways and in class.  Classes will be divided into half  (Group 1 & Group 2) -with a max of 15 students in each group.  Each group will attend school for a 1/2 day (morning or afternoon) and follow their normal school schedule.  When they are not physically in school, they will follow the distance learning curriculum.  The first week, Group 1 will do mornings and group 2 afternoons & the following week it will switch.  Each group/class will be assigned to one room and the teachers will come to this particular classroom.  The student's don't move until the end of their classes.  The groups would be escorted from the courtyard to their designated rooms and back again at the end of their classes.  They would then be dismissed by small groups to again limit the flow through the halls.  All school personnel helps to supervise the halls and flow of students for entering and exiting in addition to the courtyard.

Lunch is optional for the group that has morning class, but if they stay - the cafeteria has been arranged so students sit the appropriate distance apart.  Only cold lunches will be served.  

In addition to publishing all of these new protocols, the school, teachers, counselors and the director called all parents to review the new rules and also ask if our child was returning to school or not.

Even though how the school functions is very different and much more regimented than before - it ensures safety  and protection for students and staff.  As a parent, it's reassuring to see all that they have tried to do to help all of us begin to return to "normal" life.  

Obviously, for various reasons some parents chose to continue to keep their children home on the distant learning curriculum.  But for many others, they have sent their children back to school.  As students are restarting school essentially part time- the government has asked employers to continue to prioritize telecommuting for their employees where possible.   
My daughter returned along with 80% of her classmates.  Her half of the class is actually 11 students.  We are now in the middle of the second week - she did mornings last week and is on afternoons this week.  Her day varies from 2 hours of instruction to 4 hours maximum.  This will schedule will continue until the school year - for France - last day of school is Friday July 3.  We are beginning to return to living life...

It's been strange to slowly return to normal.  After 2 months of being confined to the house except for necessities - to have the freedom to go out was actually strange at first.  On day one - May 11 - it actually rained all day...Mother Nature's way of reminding us to take it slow.

We still need to think about bringing a mask out with us.  The town provided all citizens with washable masks and I have made some too.  With my youngest back at school, it means washing masks almost daily - new activity for post-lockdown life.  As far as work, for most life is slowly getting back to normal.  Companies are starting up again, stores are opening and soon hopefully restaurants and cafes will be opening soon.  Yes, there will be some businesses that couldn't handle the shutdown, other companies needs to lay off personnel.  France is slowly waking back up.

It's been nice to be able to go out.  Last week, I had a strong desire to put my feet into the ocean - so my youngest and I went off to Arcachon - my favorite little seaside town - located about an hour from us.  It was great to walk in the sand - breathe the sea air, and take in one of my favorite spots.  Luckily for us, ice cream shops are open - so what a treat.  It felt normal, it felt good and it felt like we are finally moving in the right direction - returning to living life.

We wait to begin Phase 2 next week.  The First minister - Edouard Philippe will speak this afternoon and announce when & where restaurants and bars will open, discuss 8th & 9th graders along with high schoolers, & parcs, gardens and pools.  Will they lift the 100km limit of travel?  So many questions.
In any case, France is waking up slowly and carefully.

Hope everyone is doing well.

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