In-person learning at schools has resulted in “little evidence” of COVID-19 transmission, especially when safety protocols like mask-wearing and distancing are enforced and other measures in the community to slow the spread are taken, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they wrote there “has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission” of COVID-19.
They made the assessment after reviewing data from the United States and internationally, looking at in-person school transmission rates and community rates. In addition, the CDC released a new study Tuesday of 17 schools in rural Wisconsin showing similar results.
"Having children in a monitored school setting might increase adherence to mask compliance," the CDC wrote in response to the Wisconsin study. "In-person schooling for children has numerous health and societal benefits, especially for children and parents of lower socioeconomic status.”
However, the researchers did find some indoor athletic events at schools have led directly to infections and they recommended schools curtail these activities to continue to operate safely.
They cited a situation at a high school wrestling event in December 2020. There were 130 wrestling tournament participants who were students, coaches or referees, and 38, about 30%, had confirmed COVID-19 infection. Hundreds of contacts were identified and tracked, and secondary transmission resulted in another 41 COVID-19 infections and one death.
“Even though high school athletics are highly valued by many students and parents, indoor practice or competition and school-related social gatherings with limited adherence to physical distancing and other mitigation strategies could jeopardize the safe operation of in-person education,” researchers stated.
Overall, the researchers say these low transmission rates in school are possible because of safety efforts at schools and lower transmission rates in the community.
“All recommended mitigation measures in schools must continue: requiring universal face mask use, increasing physical distance by dedensifying classrooms and common areas, using hybrid attendance models when needed to limit the total number of contacts and prevent crowding, increasing room air ventilation, and expanding screening testing to rapidly identify and isolate asymptomatic infected individuals,” the researchers state.
The report said “there is much hope on the horizon for a safer environment for schools and school-related athletic activities during the 2021/22 school year” with the rate of vaccination increasing and infection rates appearing to hold steady or decline in some communities.