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expert reaction to preprint on schools and absences due to COVID-19 between September and December 2020

A preprint, an unpublished non-peer reviewed study, looks at school absences in England during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This Roundup accompanied an SMC Briefing


Prof Sarah Lewis, Professor of Molecular Epidemiology, University of Bristol, said:

“In this study the authors have used data from the department of education for the whole of England to study pupil and teacher absence due to a confirmed case of COVID-19 separately by region over the autumn period.

“The data show that the proportion of children in primary schools absent with the virus was low and did not change very much over the whole term.  The proportion of cases among secondary school pupils was higher but went down in the second half of the November lockdown despite schools staying open.  The proportion of teachers absent in primary schools was very similar to that in secondary schools throughout the autumn term, despite cases among pupils in these schools being quite different and absence among teachers in both types of schools reduced slightly in tier 3 in the November lockdown, suggesting that cases among pupils were not driving staff absence and that pupils were not infecting teachers in large numbers.

“There were more cases in secondary school pupils in the South East and in London in the last part of the Autumn term, which possibly reflected the new variant of the virus.

“Cases in schools seemed to correlate most strongly with cases in the community 5-7 days earlier (which is the typical incubation period), suggesting that cases in the community were spilling into schools rather than vice versa, which is the conclusion reached by the European Centre for Disease Control in their most recent report on schools:

“This is an ecological study which looks at prevalence of cases within regional groups of teachers and pupils over time.  It shows changes in patterns of prevalence but cannot tell us whether infections occurred in school or elsewhere.  There is also a possibility that some cases, particularly in young children, went undetected because they are less likely to have symptoms.”



Preprint (not a paper): ‘An analysis of school absences in England during the Covid-19 pandemic’ by Emma Southall et al has been posted on medRxiv.  This work is not peer-reviewed.



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