Schools can safely reopen at risk of large-scale Covid transmission with simple mitigation measures

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Schools can safely reopen without the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks if officials take simple measures, such as vaccinating teachers and reducing class sizes, study finds

  • Strategies like vaccinating teachers and reducing class sizes could significantly reduce risk of Covid transmission, new study finds
  • Primary schools may see a fivefold increase and secondary schools a tenfold increase
  • Schools are not the main driver of the spread of COVID-19, with children who learn at home are just as likely to contract the virus as face-to-face students
  • Many children suffered from mental health problems due to the increased isolation during the pandemic and opening schools could reduce this rising number

Schools can safely reopen in the US in the fall with moderate mitigation strategies to protect against coronavirus, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Maryland, Harvard University, Stanford University and Massachusetts General Hospital have created a model looking at the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in classrooms.

They found that strategies such as vaccinating teachers, using masks and social distancing, and conducting asymptomatic Covid-19 screening can significantly reduce the spread of the virus.

Opening schools is important, the researchers note, as mental health problems among children rose by about 25 percent during the pandemic due to greater social isolation.

The team adds that any school that can safely reopen in the fall should do so to prevent more mental health problems among children.

Researchers say it is important for students' mental health that schools reopen, and they can do so safely through mitigation strategies

Researchers say it is important for students’ mental health that schools reopen, and they can do so safely through mitigation strategies

“As we enter the recovery phase from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to support our children and adolescents who have suffered from a lack of educational opportunities and social interaction,” co-authored Dr. Ted Long, Senior Vice President of Ambulatory Care and Population Health at New York City Health + Hospital, in a editorial.

For the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the team built a simulation model to assess the risk of transmission of Covid-19 in schools, taking into account class size, interactions inside and outside the school, and other factors.

The results showed that transmission among older children in high school was more likely than among younger children in elementary school, but the strategies are also more effective in older children.

Primary schools could potentially see a fivefold increase in Covid transmission when using these strategies, while secondary schools could see a tenfold increase.

Mitigation strategies that schools could implement to reduce the number of cases include isolating symptomatic individuals, reducing class sizes, alternative schedules that limit interaction.

The team also found that schools were not a primary driver for community transmission.

They found that children who learn at home are just as likely to contract Covid-19 as they are at school.

Researchers note that as of May 2021, 40 percent of children in the US will not have an option to return to personal education, and they believe this could negatively impact a child’s social development.

Mitigation strategies include vaccinating teachers, using masks and social distancing, and shrinking classrooms to reduce transmission of Covid-19

Mitigation strategies include vaccinating teachers, using masks and social distancing, and shrinking classrooms to reduce transmission of Covid-19

As the 2021-2022 school year looms, many schools will plan to return to face-to-face learning.

The researchers recommend schools that choose to take some of these measures to ensure the safety of students and staff.

“Evidence shows schools can be safely reopened with preventative measures,” wrote Long, who is also executive director of the NYC COVID-19 Test & Trace Corps.

“We must do everything we can to reopen our schools to ensure that young people come out of this pandemic in good health.”

Expanding vaccine availability may also help, with children ages 12 and older eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

Younger children will slowly become eligible for the vaccine over time, as more testing is needed before Pfizer gets all-ages approval for emergency use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, all ages could be available for the vaccine by early 2022.

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