Concerns that schools may struggle to put mass testing facilities in place before reopening their doors in just over a week’s time have increased fears that they could become a vector of transmission.
The worry that schools could help to rapidly spread infections had been eased by a study that suggests children aged under 15 are about half as likely as adults to catch and spread the coronavirus.
Researchers in Iceland monitored every child and adult in the country who had been quarantined after possible exposure to the virus. Using contact tracing and genetic sequencing to identify links between outbreak clusters, the study of 40,000 people found that children “can and do get infected and transmit to others, but they do both less frequently than adults”, according to a spokesperson for the experts.
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The analysis - by teams from Iceland’s Directorate of Health and Reykjavik-based firm deCODE genetics - is “one in a recent flurry of large-scale studies that support the conclusion that infected adults pose a greater danger to children than kids do to adults”, says National Geographic.
A study published this week in the BMJ also raised hopes that schools will sidestep mass transmission, finding that “in-person learning increases teachers’ exposure”, but “teachers and school staff are not at higher risk of hospital admission or death from Covid-19 compared with other workers”.
Researchers compared data from Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, where schools have remained open for longer periods during the pandemic, and discovered that “school closures had no discernible effect on SARS-CoV-2 transmission”.
“In the absence of strong evidence for benefits of school closures, the precautionary principle would be to keep schools open to prevent catastrophic harms to children,” the study added.
Writing on The Conversation, Andrew Lee, reader in global public health at the University of Sheffield, and Sunil Bhopal, lecturer in paediatrics at Newcastle University, argue that “school closures reduce educational opportunities for children”, while “investigations from Norway and other countries found no or very little transmission within schools”.
The evidence collected on infections within schools suggest they “can be made relatively safe with appropriate infection control measures such as face coverings, physical distancing, good hygiene and ventilation”, the pair say.
While school closures “might reduce overall community infections by a small amount”, they add, “they should only really be implemented as a last resort as part of wider pandemic control measures and should not be undertaken lightly”.
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