Experts stressed the importance of personalized learning for students’ development and access to basic services. On the other hand, Covid-19 case, hospitalization and death rates remain high across the country.
In an effort to strike the right balance, schools have adopted various approaches that include personal learning, online learning, and a combination of the two.
In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Tuesday, CDC researchers note that the type of spread seen in crowded offices and long-term care facilities has not been reported in schools. Transmission occurred within the school, but the researchers said there is little evidence that it has beneficially contributed to the increase in transmission in the community.
“Today’s commitment to policies preventing the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in communities and schools will help ensure the future social and academic well-being and education of all students,” the researchers wrote in the JAMA paper.
Two new studies from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published Tuesday in the agency’s weekly morbidity and mortality report showed that with the right precautions taken, children can safely return to school.
Three-layer face masks and no high contact sports
In the first study, researchers looked at data from 17 K-12 schools in rural Wood County, Wisconsin, which conducted personalized learning last fall. They found rates of Covid-19 infection lower than in the community as a whole, and few cases of transmission within school.
Of the 5,530 students and staff, 191 have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. Researchers found that rates of Covid-19 infection in schools were 37% lower than in the surrounding community.
Contact tracing and investigation determined that seven of those 191 cases – 3.7%, all among students – were contracted at the school. Three of the seven students who tested positive for the virus were from an elementary school class.
Schools have not conducted routine testing for Covid-19, but have implemented mitigation measures.
For example, students were provided with three to five double or triple-layer cloth masks. Masks were required in schools, and at the state level, they were worn by more than 92% of students of all ages.
Groups of 11-20 students from the same class have gathered to attend classes and have lunch indoors, as students sit next to the same person. Cohorts were asked not to mix, and researchers found no in-school transmission between different groups.
Employees have been asked to hide social distancing and limit time in shared indoor spaces. If an out-of-school student has symptoms of Covid-19, his siblings have also been asked to stay home.
When a student or staff member tested positive for the virus, school officials used interviews to identify close contacts – that is, someone who had been 6 feet away from the person for more than 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. Those contacts were asked to quarantine at home, and if they developed symptoms during that period, officials investigated whether the outbreak inside the school was the cause.
The team say their findings indicate that even with varying levels of positivity in the community, students are not necessarily at increased risk of contracting the virus if they attend classes personally. In fact, they say that being in a controlled environment like the classroom may increase adherence to public health measures.
Extracurricular activities, like intramural sports, may be another story, according to a separate report by the CDC published Tuesday.
Two high school wrestling matches in Florida became two super events in December when 54 out of 130 attendees – wrestlers, coaches and referees – were tested for Covid-19, and 38 of them tested positive. Of the 91 people in contact with the infected people, 43% were positive. One of the people over the age of fifty died.
It is not possible to maintain physical distancing in high-contact sports, and the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against wearing masks while wrestling as it poses a choking hazard.
After calculating the amount of time all participants had to quarantine and isolate, the researchers estimated that there were 1,700 personal school days lost due to the outbreak – a number they say would have been higher if the outbreak wasn’t too close to the end of the semester.
“An outbreak among athletes participating in high-contact sports could affect the subjective learning of all students and increase the risk of transmission in high school and the community, with potentially dangerous consequences, including death,” the researchers wrote.