School buses pose a small threat to the spread of Covid, even if they are fully packed and the virus is on the rise, research suggests today.
Experts tracked the spread of the coronavirus through a school of more than 1,000 students in Virginia.
They saw dozens of cases but concluded that “no transfer was linked to bus transport.”
This is despite the investigation conducted between August 2020 and March this year, which covered some of the darkest days of the state’s outbreak.
Researchers claimed the findings show that “school buses can operate safely at normal capacity, even with high covid caseloads in the community.”
Each student was asked to wear a face mask on the bus and the windows were kept open to allow for ventilation.
Similar coronavirus protection guidelines for children traveling to school are currently in effect in England.
Guidelines issued Monday by the Ministry of Education state that children aged 11 or older are encouraged to wear face masks, but social distancing is no longer required on buses or other public transport to school.
Research at a school of 1154 students in Virginia from August 2020 to March this year found there was ‘no” [Covid] transmission linked to bus transport’ [stock photo]
Students were packed into 15 buses – meaning two students per bank with a social distancing of 2.5 ft. Pictured: a typical bus layout during the study
The US observational study used the school’s regular tests to check how much Covid was spreading on school buses.
It is unclear whether the children were of lower or secondary age, which may have affected their chance of infection.
The students were first given PCR tests every two weeks and weekly during the periods of highest transmission.
Nearly 85% of secondary schools in England had NO covid cases after they opened, official data suggests
Nearly nine in 10 secondary schools in England had no cases of coronavirus after they reopened, official figures suggest.
Surveillance data showed that only nine of the 80 schools surveyed had seen one infected student or staff member in the two weeks ending March 31.
Four saw at least two cases, according to the Office for National Statistics report.
The survey, which is regularly conducted to monitor the spread of the disease in schools, swabbed nearly 10,000 secondary school teachers and students.
Only 0.34 percent of students tested positive – compared to 1.2 percent in December, when Covid spread rapidly in the community. Only one in 500 teachers was infected during the latest round of testing, compared to one in 60 before Christmas.
Public Health England bosses said the data was “reassuring”.
dr. Shamez Ladhani, a PHE epidemiologist and principal investigator of the study, said: “The results of this study show that the current Covid infection rate among high school staff and students has decreased significantly from the already low levels recorded last November. .
“These findings are reassuring and add to broader evidence that the risk of transmission in schools is low.
“This also indicates the importance of public health measures in schools to reduce transmission.”
They were packed in 15 buses – meaning there are two students per bench with a distance of 2.5 ft (about 0.7 meters apart).
The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), which advises the U.S. government on Covid policy, currently recommends all passengers on public transportation to maintain a 6 ft (about 2 m) distance.
Ten of the 15 buses were completely full and the students had to sit in almost every seat.
Simple ventilation techniques were used during the 36- to 74-minute bus journeys, including opening windows and wearing face masks.
Two windows in the center and two at the rear were opened 2.5 cm (1 in), with any additional openings up to the driver to decide.
There were 39 Covid cases – including two staff members – on the buses over the seven-month period, forcing 52 students into quarantine.
But testing and contact tracing showed the infections were unrelated to bus transmission.
Close contacts were defined as someone sitting less than 2 meters away from a student who tested positive on the bus for more than 15 minutes.
Even during peaks of the virus in Virginia, where cases reached 525.7 per 100,000, not a single case was transmitted by school bus, the experts said.
Researchers said the study shows that schools can safely use buses at full capacity, without the need for extra space between students — despite the study looking at only one school.
dr. Dana Ramirez, an emergency medicine expert at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Virginia, said: “The pandemic has made it very difficult for public schools to meet the transportation needs of students.
“Many districts simply don’t have enough buses and drivers to allow 3 to 6 ft. distances or skip bus lines, while still allowing all kids to get rides.
“With more students returning to personal education, safe transport to school is an equality issue as many families are unable to take their children to school every day.
“As members of the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics School Re-Opening Task Force, we recognize that schools are under pressure to make data-driven operational decisions.
“We hope the model we describe and our data can help demonstrate that school buses can operate safely at normal capacity, even with high Covid caseloads in the community.”
The study supports previous research showing that the chances of the virus spreading on public transport are minimal if masks are worn and social distancing is respected.
Contact tracing research that examined hundreds of Covid clusters in France, Austria and Japan last year linked less than one percent of ‘super-distributed’ events to public transport.
The chance of contracting the virus was found to be much higher when working in the office, eating in a restaurant or drinking in a bar.
Scientists say people tend to stay on trains or buses for relatively short periods of time and often don’t talk to anyone, reducing the amount of aerosols they expel.