Managing risk well in schools

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According to an Australian study, the risk of corona infection in schools can be kept low by contact tracking. Photo: Robert Michael / dpa-Zentralbild / dpa / Symbolbild (Image: dpa)
(Photo: Robert Michael / dpa-Zentralbild / dpa / Symbolbild)

Sydney / London – According to a study from Australia, the risk of corona outbreaks in schools and kindergartens can be kept low with measures such as contact tracking of infected people. This effective tracking is the key to preventing spreading in schools and daycare centers.

Although teachers, caregivers and children infected with the virus visited their respective facilities when they were already infectious, only a few other people were infected there, researchers report in the journal “The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health”.

Unlike in many other countries, schools in Australia remained open during the first wave of spread, accompanied by distance and hygiene rules. Researchers led by Kristine Macartney from the University of Sydney had recorded infection numbers and routes for 25 schools and kindergartens in the state of New South Wales from January to April. If there was proof in a facility, the close contacts of the person concerned were identified. These people were asked to quarantine for 14 days and regularly asked for symptoms. If there was one, a test was initiated.

Accordingly, 12 children and 15 teachers / carers visited their respective institutions at a time when they were infectious – that is, about the day before the first symptoms appeared. Of their 1448 contacts there, only 18 fell ill with Covid-19. In addition to three schools, a kindergarten was particularly affected, in which one adult transmitted the virus to six adults and seven children. A detailed analysis, in which antibody tests were also carried out, showed that Sars-CoV-2 was transmitted significantly more frequently between adults or from an adult to a child than from a child to an adult or between children.

The researchers also address limitations in the meaningfulness of their results: Most of the close contacts were only tested if they developed symptoms. It can be assumed that some cases that were mild or asymptomatic were therefore not recorded. In addition, the schools remained open, but the children were encouraged to learn from home if possible. Shortly before the start of the holiday in April, a large proportion of the students made use of it.

In the specialist journal, researchers led by Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths from University College London also presented a model analysis for six scenarios for the upcoming opening of schools after the holidays in Great Britain. The potential infection events were considered for rotating classes for some of the students. For a full-time school opening, it must be possible to identify and isolate around three quarters of the symptomatic infections in order to be able to effectively contain the spread. In addition, a large part of the contact persons of infected people must be recorded for this.

The model calculation suggests that schools in the UK can open without problems, accompanied by an efficient test and contact tracking strategy, according to Panovska-Griffiths. Without this, however, there would be a strong second wave of outbreaks in the months afterwards, even assuming that children are only half as contagious as adults.

Many countries worldwide had responded to the first wave of corona infections with school and daycare closures, among other things, to curb the further spread of the virus. For families, however, this often means an immense burden. Experts also fear that children from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds in school will increasingly lose touch. Violence against children and abuse also occur more frequently if the daily care in schools and daycare centers is no longer available.

This is why many experts emphasize that the children have to go back to school and daycare. But there is great concern that outbreaks could immensely heat up the infection process there. In large Israel, for example, schools are considered one of the hotspots when the number of cases increases.

On the other hand, previous analyzes suggest that children do not become infected as often as adults and, above all, develop little or no symptoms. “Teachers are more likely to be the problem with school openings: they speak loudly, students breathe in the droplets,” Philipp Henneke, the head of the Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Rheumatology at the Freiburg University Children’s Clinic, recently explained.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 200804-99-34764 / 2

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