Epidemiologist explains how can schools reopen safely during COVID

Simply when schools had been on the point of reopen for the brand new college yr, cases of COVID-19 started surging in the USA, pushed largely by the extra contagious delta variant. College directors across the nation are working to deliver college students again into the classroom safely, whereas nonetheless offering youngsters an enriching studying setting.

As an infectious disease epidemiologist on the College of Washington, I’ve spent the previous yr and a half working with a bunch of epidemiologists and well being professionals to gather, overview and consider the scientific evidence about COVID-19 for state and native public well being companies.

Our group concluded that vaccines and masking work properly for stopping COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, however different methods like plexiglass boundaries and temperature checks are most likely not definitely worth the effort.

What works

A COVID-19 vaccine is the one most necessary device for preventing COVID-19 in schools, in addition to almost in all places else. All of the vaccines at present licensed to be used within the U.S. have been proven to assist prevent infections and defend in opposition to average and severe disease. Some variants, equivalent to delta, could also be extra prone to trigger breakthrough infections, however vaccinations have shown protection in opposition to symptomatic illness brought on by delta.

The extra individuals in a faculty who’re vaccinated, the decrease the danger of an outbreak within the college and the decrease the chance that somebody will develop extreme illness if infections happen. COVID-19 vaccines are at present out there to anybody age 12 or older, and it’s attainable that at the least one of many vaccines will be authorized for youthful school-age kids within the later months of 2021 or early in 2022.

Masks are necessary, too. Not everybody in a faculty can be or will select to be vaccinated, and there may be additionally a danger of breakthrough infections, particularly from the delta variant. Masks scale back the danger of an contaminated particular person’s spreading the virus and supply some safety for the wearer in opposition to becoming infected. Throughout the previous educational yr, mask-wearing was proven to scale back the unfold of COVID-19 in schools. Masks additionally don’t disrupt the varsity day in the way in which that different measures may, equivalent to preserving college students in fastened cohorts or shortening the varsity day for cut up shifts.

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What most likely isn’t definitely worth the effort

Different prevention measures have had restricted effectiveness in some settings however probably are usually not price the associated fee and energy to implement in most schools.

Plexiglass boundaries, widespread in companies and different venues, can be costly and do little to stop airborne transmission at school environments. In some conditions, boundaries like desk shields may very well increase the risk of transmission by lowering air circulation.

Day by day temperature checks and symptom screening have additionally not proved to be an efficient way to stop COVID-19 in public settings. This strategy misses asymptomatic instances, that are especially common amongst kids and youthful adults. Nonetheless, college students, lecturers and employees ought to keep house till they’ve a unfavorable take a look at if they’re experiencing signs of COVID-19 or have been uncovered to somebody with COVID-19.

Different insurance policies can scale back transmission however can be disruptive to college students, like bodily distancing of at the least 6 toes or separating college students into cohorts that aren’t permitted to combine. If college students are carrying masks, and particularly if most are vaccinated, these measures are unlikely so as to add much more protection. The CDC at present recommends 3-foot spacing in schools when possible and multilayered prevention measures when not attainable.


It’s additionally most likely not price testing everybody frequently. Frequent testing is expensive, and real-world examples and mathematical models point out that routine asymptomatic testing for COVID-19 in schools supplies little extra profit past widespread vaccination and masking. Nonetheless, the CDC does embody some asymptomatic testing in schools as one of many potential parts of a layered prevention strategy.

What to do about lunch

Once I discuss to high school directors about reopening safely, probably the most widespread questions they ask me is how to run lunchtime, when college students are gathered collectively and can’t at all times put on masks. Many schools included lunch during the previous yr without causing COVID-19 outbreaks, which means that lunch can be performed safely.

There may be little direct proof on the danger of transmission when evaluating totally different approaches to the lunch downside, however there are some primary guiding ideas.

College students ought to put on masks every time they don’t seem to be actively consuming. As difficult as it’s to handle a rambunctious lunchroom, shouting, singing and loud speaking spread more virus and needs to be discouraged, particularly with out masks. And good ventilation, notably in spaces where people are eating, is necessary.

College students additionally must hold their distance from each other whereas they eat. Schools might think about having extra lunch intervals, having kids eat of their lecture rooms, or utilizing different areas within the college to scale back crowding.

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Dangers outdoors of faculty

The strongest driver of COVID-19 in kids, lecturers and households is not school—it’s the extent of community transmission.

Given what we at present know, schools can proceed to function in particular person without widespread transmission linked to schools. When group transmission is excessive, schools ought to take further care to stay to their prevention methods. However the primary option to defend college students is to cease the unfold of COVID-19 outdoors of faculty.

What we nonetheless don’t know

It’s not clear how the rise of the delta variant will have an effect on the return to high school. Individuals contaminated with delta are likely to spread the virus more than these contaminated with different strains, and breakthrough infections from this variant can trigger large outbreaks when different prevention measures are usually not in place. Counting on vaccinations alone to manage COVID-19 doesn’t appear to be a profitable technique.

More children are becoming infected during the delta variant surge. There have been sharp will increase in July and August 2021 within the whole variety of kids recognized with infections and hospitalized for COVID-19. However the variety of instances within the normal inhabitants has elevated, too. There has solely been a modest improve within the proportion of COVID-19 instances in kids relative to different age teams, and that might be attributable to the truth that kids are an growing share of the unvaccinated.

COVID-19 by no means fails to supply new surprises. Many points of the subsequent college yr stay unknown, however by studying from what labored and didn’t work over the previous college yr, we now have proof that in most conditions college students can safely return to high school in particular person so long as these layered prevention measures are put in place and adhered to.

Brandon Guthrie, Affiliate Professor of World Well being and Epidemiology, University of Washington


This text is republished from The Conversation underneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the original article.