Schools with controls in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have similar levels of infection among staff compared to the wider community, according to research on English schools released on Monday.
In contrast, studies of nursing homes and healthcare professionals – also operating in indoor environments – show much higher infection rates. While between 12 and 15 percent of school staff in the survey were infected, these rates are two to three times higher for healthcare workers and even higher in nursing homes, the authors note.
The investigation – conducted by Public Health England, the Office of National Statistics and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine – looked at the current prevalence of the disease as well as past infections.
England’s planned return of staff and pupils to class next week has prompted many teachers to worry about an increased risk of infection. If this study holds, however, there should be little cause for concern as long as control measures that work in the community – such as improved cleaning, limiting gatherings, and social distancing between adults – remain. in place.
The data provide “indirect assurance that there is not much asymptomatic transmission in this setting,” said Shamez Ladhani, chief investigator.
He cautioned against overestimating the results, as the study covered a short time frame and had a relatively small sample size. Yet one of the “most likely reasons why we are not seeing large and widespread infections in schools has to be due to all the mitigation processes that are in place,” he concluded.
The study tested primary and secondary school staff and students from November 3 to 19 and December 2 to 10, with 105 schools participating in the first round and 121 schools in the second round. About 40 percent of all staff and about 15 percent of eligible students attended.
In November, 12.63 percent of primary staff tested positive for antibodies, compared to 12.27 percent of secondary staff. In December, 14.61 percent of primary staff tested positive for antibodies compared to 15.72 percent of secondary staff. Likewise, high school students were more likely to have been infected than elementary school students.