This week, two new modeling studies contribute new evidence to the conversation about in-person schooling during the pandemic. Both pre-prints (which means they have not yet been peer-reviewed), the studies consider several dimensions of in-person schooling to simulate COVID-19 spread with various mitigation approaches in different contexts.
The first study incorporates different school-based mitigation strategies, with different levels of community prevalence, in both elementary and secondary school communities, including transmission within school, within the household, and across households. The model-based simulations account for weekly testing, isolation of infected individuals and quarantine of close contacts, reduced class sizes, rotating schedules, and school-based staff vaccination.
The second study similarly models transmission in school, conducting separate simulations for primary and secondary school grade levels. The authors built a corresponding data tool that provides the results of their model-based simulations, intended to inform decision-making about safe school reopening.
The model-based studies find that:
- Vaccinating teachers and school staff lessens their own risk and the likelihood of in-school transmission, particularly when coupled with other mitigation measures.
- Testing at least weekly is an important risk reduction strategy, with testing of teachers and of secondary school students proving most important in curbing spread.
- “Cohorting” students, or alternating schedules to reduce capacity, lowers both the probability of an outbreak and the size of the outbreak if it occurs.
- Mitigation measures are more effective when community prevalence is low.
In sum, these studies suggest that in-person schooling can be done safely with mitigation measures in place, such as masking, rotating schedules, distancing, and proper ventilation, especially when community spread is low and particularly in elementary schools. Frequent testing and teacher and staff vaccination lower the risk even further.