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Is it safe for schools to be open during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Researchers at the University of Vermont have developed a model to gauge the safety of open schools.

Reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a topic of much debate and concern. Prolonged school closures may have lasting effects on child health and development. Many working or disadvantaged parents and caregivers rely on school systems for their children’s education. As the virus is novel and lacking in long-term research, current guidelines and school closure metrics have been based on how influenza (flu) spreads. In order to provide a proper prediction model for schools reopening, the transmissibility and susceptibility of children to COVID-19 must be taken into account. A recent study published in BMC Public Health, did just that: modeling the impact of SARS-CoV-2 in schools.

The researchers used a previously established impact tracing model from Shanghai, China to evaluate the impact of open schools on COVID-19 spread within communities. They investigated a range of conditions, looking into daily contact within all age groups to monitor the risk of transmission in communities and in school settings. Contact behavior was observed for two time periods: pre- and post-pandemic lockdown. With this, they tested various school reopening scenarios regarding transmission rates of infection in younger children. Within this model, they worked under the established assumptions that “children under the age of 10, are less susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and rarely transmit the infection to adults or schoolmates.”

Schools can reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic with the addition of strict contact guidelines

For social distancing measures, a full lockdown has the most beneficial effects in reducing COVID-19 transmissibility, as it hinders most human contact. In terms of age, children under 10 years of age only have a small impact on disease transmission. In the absence of a complete lockdown, school closures would have minimal effects on the spread of COVID-19 due to various other forms of social contact within communities. Similarly, during strictly practiced community lockdowns, school reopening would have little effect on virus transmission throughout communities. With regulated contact-hindering guidelines, the opening of schools poses minimal threat to the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in schools and in communities.

A reduction in daily contact between children, school, and community members is necessary to maintain the health and wellness of the general public. The results of this study provide an argument to prioritize opening schools. Given that current regulations are drawn from influenza transmission, it is important to restructure guidelines according to SARS-CoV-2 assessed models, such as that done in this study.

Written by Melody Sayrany

References:

  1. Lee, B., Hanley1, H. P., Nowak, S., Bates, J. H., & Hébert-Dufresne, L. (2020). Modeling the impact of school reopening on SARS-CoV-2 transmission using contact structure data from Shanghai. BMC Public Health. doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09799-8
  • Staff, S. (2020, November 20). SARS-CoV-2 transmission model offers decision-making pathways for safe school opening. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-11-sars-cov-transmission-decision-making-pathways-safe.html
  • Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay 
Melody Sayrany MSc
Melody Sayrany MSc
Melody Sayrany is a seasoned science writer with a host of experiences in cancer, neuroscience, aging, and metabolism research. She completed her BSc at The University of California, San Diego, and her MSc in biology, focusing on metabolic diseases during aging, at the University of British Columbia. Melody is passionate about science communication, and she aims to bridge the gap between complex scientific concepts and the broader community through compelling storytelling.
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