Survey finds evidence schools can be a source of coronavirus spread

PITTSBURGH — How do you get the risk of spreading COVID-19 to completely go away in schools?

According to a new study by Johns Hopkins University, you utilize almost every single mitigation measure at your disposal.

Researchers looked at an ongoing Facebook-based COVID-19 symptom survey.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi Group manages the survey in collaboration with Facebook.

These researchers looked at nearly 600,000 responses over two periods between November 2020 and February 2021, and before vaccines were widely available in the United States.

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The survey found households where at least one child was back to school in-person full-time, were 38% more likely to report someone infected with COVID-19 or a COVID-19-like illness.

The risk went down by nearly 10% for each mitigation measure used.

“Everybody has to do their part. Schools can only be as safe as everybody following those safety measures and if we really want our children to be in school, we all have to participate in the safety measures,” said Dr. Tracey Conti, executive vice chair, Department of Family Medicine at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Teacher masking and daily symptom screening appeared to be the strongest risk reducers.

“Just know that these mitigation strategies work and now that we have widespread vaccinations for our teachers this should further make schools safe for our children to go back to school, and by the fall we should even have our high schools vaccinated, so we will continually see this trend of being safe to send our kids to school,” said Dr. Matthew Moffa, infectious disease physician at Allegheny Health Network.

Researchers also found the risk completely disappeared when 10 or more mitigation efforts were properly implemented.

Dr. Debra Bogen with the Allegheny County Health Department has consistently said schools in the county are not causing any kind of spread of the virus.

We’ve reached out to the county too for an update on this and their response to this most recent study:

“The John Hopkins University study supports guidance for how schools can limit the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom setting. Strategies such as mask wearing, restricted entry, extra space between desks, no supply sharing, student cohorting, and reduced class size together reduce spread in schools.

The Allegheny County Health Department monitors cases associated with school exposure through case investigations. Outbreaks and spread are significantly more likely to be associated with sports and social activities than classroom spread. This is probably because adherence to masking and social distancing is easier to follow in a classroom setting.”