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Schools in England that reopened early saw low rates of Covid-19, study finds

Some educational settings in England re-opened earlier than others during the summer break.

Image: Shutterstock/Yuganov Konstantin

SCHOOLS AND NURSERIES in England that re-opened after the country’s first lockdown saw a low number of confirmed Covid-19 cases or outbreaks, according to a new study.

Research released by the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal has found that Covid-19 cases and outbreaks in staff and students were low in English schools that reopened during the summer half-term from 1 June to 17 July.

Nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools in the UK closed in late March in response to Covid-19 during the country’s first lockdown.

Some educational settings re-opened early during the summer half-term to cater for students in specific categories or year groups, including students:

  • Whose parents were key workers or who were classified as vulnerable
  • In primary school reception and years 1 and 6
  • In year 10 and 12 in secondary school

Overall, 1.6 million pupils attended school during the period out of England’s total 8.9 million students across 38,000 nurseries, 15,600 primary schools, and 4,000 secondary schools, all of which were included in the Lancet’s study.

Across the schools, only 113 single cases, nine co-primary cases, and 55 outbreaks were recorded between 1 June and July 17.

Of the single cases, 49% involved children and 51% involved staff, and 61% of them were in primary schools.

There were 27 outbreaks in primary schools, 16 in nurseries, seven in secondary schools, and five in schools with mixed age groups.

The study found that there was a strong association between outbreaks in schools and levels of community transmission.

The risk of an outbreak rose by 72% for every five additional cases per 100,000 in a local community.

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The report found that infection rates were higher among staff compared to students, with 27 cases per 100,000 per day for staff, compared to 18 for children in nurseries, 6 in primary school students, and 6.8 in secondary school students.

Discussing the findings, Dr Shamez Ladhani of Public Health England said that “SARS-CoV2 infections and outbreaks were uncommon in educational settings after they reopened during the summer term”.

“The strong correlation with rates in the wider community also emphasises the importance of controlling transmission outside the school gates to protect educational settings,” Dr Ladhani said.

“This is consistent with studies that have been conducted since this paper was completed in August, and forthcoming PHE research into transmission in schools during the autumn term.” 

Dr Sharif Ismail of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that “while staff did have higher infection rates, it’s important to note that the overall number of cases was very small and the vast majority of staff were completely fine and able to protect themselves and any students”.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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