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Source: United Kingdom – Science Media Centre

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and Public Health England (PHE) have released the first early findings from a jointly lead study designed to better understand the spread of COVID-19 in schools in England.

This Roundup accompanied an SMC Briefing.

Prof Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This report from the Schools Infection Survey is very welcome.

“The report gives estimates of the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in pupils and staff for 17 days in November. School-aged children often show no symptoms of infection so, because participants were tested regardless of symptoms, it gives a more accurate picture of levels of infection than routine case reporting.

“We already know that schools are safe for the vast majority of children and that school staff are at no more risk than any other profession. This survey helps us understand the likely contribution of schools to the wider epidemic.

“One in 88 participants were positive on the day of testing.  There was very little difference between pupils and staff. Prevalence was higher in secondary than primary schools, confirming a pattern seen in other surveys. Prevalence was higher in high than low prevalence areas, which the authors interpret as schools ‘mirroring’ levels of infection in the wider community. We must remember that, of course, pupils and staff do not spend all their time in schools and may become infected elsewhere, not least within their own households, so this is a reasonable interpretation of the data.

“I agree with the authors’ interpretation. Though there have been many COVID-19 cases in schools there is little evidence that schools are driving the epidemic, as some have suggested they might. Schools stayed open during the recent lockdown in England but levels of infection fell quite sharply. This is consistent with experience in other countries and is further evidence that schools are not driving the epidemic.

“Surveys like the SIS are an important tool for monitoring and understanding the COVID-19 pandemic. Continued data collection will help us make evidence-based decisions about the best course of action in challenging times.” 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

Declared interests

Prof Mark Woolhouse: “NO COIs to declare.”

None others received.

MIL OSI United Kingdom