From March 2020, parents, teachers and politicians are discussing whether to send their children to school in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new study shows that in most regions, with the exception of the South, the opening of schools for personal training is not associated with an increase in COVID-19 cases in the community. The results of the nationwide survey published in Natural medicine, includes 895 school districts in the United States.
“The results show that it is possible for schools to work safely and in person without increasing the number of cases in the community,” said Richard Nelson, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Utah Health and co-author with Westyn Branch. Elliman, MD, of the VA Boston Healthcare System. “But the other side is also true. In some areas, private school seems to be a source of community dissemination. “
The researchers analyzed the data collected during the 12 weeks from July to September 2020 by region and categorized them as northeast, midwest, south and mountain west. The Pacific West was not included because almost all public schools were virtual. The study found that:
- In each region analyzed, the incidence of COVID-19 increased in the weeks following the start of school.
- The South was the only region where the percentage of cases was higher in private or hybrid school districts than in virtual learning districts, after contributing to other contributing factors.
- In all other regions, the percentage of cases in the community in the period after the school opened was similar, whether the school was virtual, hybrid or personal.
We know that last autumn the cases increased significantly throughout the country. In some parts of the country, the school regime was a contributing factor to these rising levels, while in others it was not.
Richard Nelson, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, University of Utah Health
The results show that it is possible for schools to work safely and in person without increasing the number of cases in the community. But the other side is also true.
In the south, which includes 191 counties from Delaware to Texas, the traditional private school has been linked to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the community starting two weeks after the school reopened. The increase is mainly among people aged 0-9 or 20 and older. No stratification data were available to allow researchers to analyze the impact on different school age groups (eg primary, secondary and high school).
Researchers oversaw local policies, including job closures and public transportation, cancellation of public events, COVID testing rules, and contact tracking and mask requirements.
However, because people follow policies imperfectly, another important piece of data that researchers believe is community mobility. These are data collected from Google’s location history, which reflects how many people actually move around the community in four categories: homes, jobs, grocery stores / pharmacies, and retail / leisure locations.
In communities where people move more, there is more social interaction outside of school and thus more opportunities for the spread of infection, Nelson explains. “A traditional school in a high-traffic area looks different from a traditional school where there is not much traffic in the community in terms of the number of cases,” Nelson said. “For this reason, it is important to take community mobility into account when assessing the impact that schools have had on cases.
Together, the data show that the impact of traditional and hybrid schools on community spread varies across the country, Nelson said. Further investigation of the factors that may have contributed to the spread of the community to the south may help to identify the most effective mitigation measures for the private school.
Brunch-Eliman explains that regional differences in community-level and school-based mitigation strategies or other factors such as environmental conditions may have played a role. “It’s important to understand that schools are not islands,” said Brunch-Eliman. “They exist as part of a wider community network.”
No vaccinations were available at the time of the study, and the Delta variant has not yet appeared in the United States. Further studies will also need to investigate how these factors affect the spread of COVID-19.
University of Utah Health
Reference in the magazine:
Ertem, Z., et al. (2021) The impact of the school opening model on the prevalence and mortality in the SARS-CoV-2 community. Natural medicine. doi.org/10.1038/s41591-021-01563-8.