select search filters
briefings
roundups & rapid reactions
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

expert comments on schools’ reopening in England

Here are some general comments from scientists about the reopening of schools in England in case useful.

 

Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine, UEA, said:

“There is still a lot of uncertainty over how this will pan out. There is very little doubt that during the first wave school closures had a big impact on transmission of the epidemic in this country. But during more recent times studies suggest that schools have not played as dominant role https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.03.25.21254330v1.full. The authors of this latter paper suggested this may be because of improved safety measures in schools but there are also a number of other possible explanations one of which is that a substantial proportion of school aged children have already had the natural infection and so have some immunity.

“There is also still ongoing debate about whether increased transmission when schools are open reflect transmission in schools or more social interaction between parents who no longer have to stay in to look after their children. Also this https://www.gov.uk/government/news/covid-19-study-finds-lower-prevalence-in-schools. But in my view transmission within schools will certainly be occurring but how important that is compared to other transmission pathways I at least am not sure about.

“Scotland has seen a big surge in cases recently which some have blamed on schools and they may be right in part but there are other possible reasons for this such as increased mixing generally in areas where there had been relatively low past disease incidence. In any event schools went back on 16th Aug in Glasgow and 18th Aug in Edinburgh and the surge in cases in Scotland actually pre-dates schools opening. So no clear evidence either way here.

“So at present it is not at all clear how risky schools are and whether or not we will see a surge in infections starting in about 10 days’ time. Personally I would be surprised if cases numbers don’t start to drift upwards again towards the end of this month but I doubt that we will see a huge sustained surge. Indeed in Scotland there are early signs that their surge may have started to fade, though a bit early to be sure. If, as I suspect, we are close to the endemic equilibrium for this infection any sustained change in transmission generally would only cause a short term rise or fall after which case numbers return to close to where they were before. 

“But there is a lot of uncertainty around this and speaking as someone who doesn’t think of himself as a modeller, it seems to me that the models are not consistent either. On the whole however, I am still quite optimistic about the next few months and do believe that we are close to the end of this thing. So I am not sure we need to do much different to prevent something that I doubt will be anywhere near as bad as some commentators are suggesting.”

 

An anonymous disease modeller, said:

“We need to be careful about what we mean by ‘risk’. In a pandemic, especially one of a highly transmissible disease, there is no absolute no-risk route options. From a public heath perspective we have to trade off risk from the disease against risk from children not being in school. Note that being in school has significant protective effects for certain children, for certain problems; even school meals are beneficial in certain circumstances but there are also seriously harmful things that occur at rates higher than serious Covid complications in children against which being in school mitigates.

“If the experience in Scotland is duplicated in England rates are likely to go up. Covid does spread in schools but outbreaks in school tend to follow those in the community (i.e. schools don’t drive the community). We should also acknowledge that with children back in school adults are released to mix and this also has an effect on disease rates.

“Given where we are with control of the epidemic, I wish we had offered the vaccine to all secondary school children (controlled non-infectious exposure far better than uncontrolled). Now that we haven’t, it is likely that the additional mixing will cause additional disease (including in older, parent and grand-parent groups). This leaves us with standard infection control (hand-hygiene, ventilation, proper cleaning of surfaces (especially hard, high-touch, surfaces), and staying away when ill) which can and will help but probably will not be sufficient for retaining complete control.”

 

Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor/ Clinical Virologist, University of Leicester, said:

“COVID-19 cases are likely to increase once schools reopen – in the absence of any COVID-19 restrictions, as children are still unvaccinated and schools are high density, high contact environments, with relatively poor ventilation and long contact duration episodes (e.g. 30-60 mins in single-double periods)

“I think it’s likely we will see a surge in cases and there may be risks of long COVID in up to 14% of infected children – as a recent study from UCL has shown (https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-798316/v1). Or even more from other earlier international studies.

“Risks can be reduced by ideally, in principle, extending the COVID-19 vaccination programme to younger children, improving school ventilation, masking the older children and teachers, reducing overall class sizes, staggering break periods  – but this may have various practical complications that may be unacceptable to some parents and teachers.”

 

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

 

Declared interests

None received.

in this section

filter RoundUps by year

search by tag