Early last week, I received a lengthy, footnoted letter from a Worcester Public School student, pressing for a return to school buildings.
Let me note first: I do so love getting emails from students! or any contact at all from students! Keep those coming!
It repeated--not surprisingly, as this has been the main push in much of the press--the idea that schools were safe from COVID transmission. As I haven't done a blog post on that--I just keep tweeting out links to things--I am excerpting here that section of my response to the student letter, for both myself and others who might find it useful.
The science of transmission of COVID-19 in schools is something that I've been reviewing with care since last spring.
It has been apparent from fairly early on that children more often get coronavirus asymptomatically; the CDC, for example, notes that as many as half of COVID-19 cases in children may be asymptomatic. On the same page, they note the main issue that has plagued us from the beginning:
Without widespread testing of all--including asymptomatic!--individuals, we simply do not know the rates of coronavirus among us.The true incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children is not known due to lack of widespread testing and the prioritization of testing for adults and those with severe illness.
We do, though, have research from places that have been doing testing. The models, which like those you cited, are from Europe, give us troubling perspective on the reality of COVID-19 in schools. In mid-December, the German magazine Der Spiegel had what has been one of the better reviews of this research as of that date. As you'll see in the piece, Austrian researchers have been, since late summer, been conducting research in 240 schools in Austria in which students and teachers are being regularly tested. This weekend, the Wall Street Journal included an update of that research in an extensive article they did on schools across Europe now closing; they've found:
In Austria, a nationwide survey by universities and medical institutes found that children under 10 showed a similar rate of infection to those between 11 and 14, and that the children in general were getting infected as often as teachers, said Michael Wagner, a microbiologist at the University of Vienna who oversees the study.
“That is very different to what has been claimed for months, that younger children are less frequently infected,” said Mr. Wagner. The study, funded by the government, regularly analyzes samples from up to 15,000 children between the age of 6 and 15, as well as teachers who show no symptoms.
The United Kingdom has been widely held up for keeping schools open even during their fall lockdown. The U.K. also is regularly testing 2% of their population. During that fall lockdown, when just about everything but schools were closed, (to quote from the WSJ again):
Scientists also point to data from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics, which conducts a weekly random survey of the population. Just before the Christmas break, when schools were still open, the positivity rate among children was higher than in most adult groups, especially in those older than 11.
That stuns Benjamin Linas, MD, MPH, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine who has advocated for opening schools under strict safety measures. “You can only open your school safely if you have COVID under control in your community,” Linas says.
Schools can and do contribute to community transmission, and we must, above all, hold the lives of those in our district at high enough value to appropriately manage that.