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Are school closures during COVID-19 effective?

Researchers from the UK conducted a comprehensive review to examine the effectiveness of school closures during COVID-19.

On March 12, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic. According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), about 107 countries implemented national school closures in response to the pandemic by March 18, 2020. This was based on evidence and assumptions from influenza outbreaks that the closures reduce social contacts between students and interrupt the transmission of the virus.

A comprehensive review, led by researchers from the University College London, investigated the effectiveness of school closures during COVID-19 as well as other social distancing measures in infection and transmission rates. The review was published in Lancet Child Adolescent Health. Researchers identified over 600 articles from three electronic databases and included only sixteen in this review. Of the articles included in the review, only nine studies were published.

The review reports that school closures were deployed quickly in China and Hong Kong in early 2020 as part of a wider set of control measures for COVID-19. However, there are no data that demonstrated the effectiveness of school closures in terms of infection control.

The findings of the studies on the SARS outbreak in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Singapore suggest that school closures did not play a significant role in controlling the transmission of the infection. However, modelling studies on the SARS outbreak produced conflicting results. Some studies reported that the school closures during the outbreak led to a decrease in infection transmission, while others suggested that the risk of transmission was low in the classrooms.

In the review, modelling studies published during the COVID-19 pandemic supported the implementation of national school closures as part of a broader package of social distancing measures. These modelling studies predict that school closures during COVID-19 will only prevent between two and four percent of the deaths, considered to be much less than the other social distancing measures.

The researchers note that the benefits of school closure during COVID-19, may not be as significant as the studies suggest because social contact between children as well as between children and adults will possibly continue as part of informal childcare and gatherings out of school. 

According to the researchers, policy makers may need to be aware of ambiguous evidence, when considering school closures during COVID-19 and suggests looking into combinations of various social distancing measures.

Written by Ranjani Sabarinathan, MSc                                                                                      

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Reference: Viner RM, Russell SJ, Croker H et al. (2020). School closure and management practices during coronavirus outbreaks including COVID-19: a rapid systematic review. Lancet Child Adolesc Health. doi: 10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30095-X

Image by Violinka from Pixabay 




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