Confirming what is perhaps the least surprising epidemiological hypothesis of this pandemic, studies have now confirmed that school reopenings are definitively linked to a rapid elevation of the spread of COVID-19.
This area posed significant scientific challenges as school reopenings were usually accompanied by a general easing of public health guidelines including, but certainly not limited to, reopening of restaurants, easing of gathering restrictions and occasionally lifting of travel limits as well. Researchers therefore relied on a technique referred to as multi-variate modeling in which statistical models incorporating data from multiple sources are developed, specifically to isolate and tease out the effect of a single variable – in this case, school reopenings on a given outcome (the spread of COVID-19). The studies observed that school reopening are associated with 24% increase in the rates of transmission. In other words, the R rate (the average number of people one infected person transmits the virus to) rises by 24%.
Notably, this correlation was consistent across geographic and socioeconomic variations. In fact, data from over 130 countries was incorporated in developing these conclusions.
The question of reopening schools remains an intensely controversial topic, and any rational conversation must temper the desire to minimize infectivity with the measured understanding of social isolation and other consequences of keeping whole populations in lockdown. However, with emerging data now suggesting that the schools maybe a prime venue for viral spread, it may be prudent to rethink full scale reopenings at this time. Other strategies may include a more comprehensive compartmentalization strategy where students have access to only a select number of other students at all given times. Other strategies such as routine, extensive testing and the institution of extensive vaccination protocols should also be given immediate priority. While we can count our blessings that this virus largely spares those of younger generations, risking its continued spread into a much dreaded third wave would undoubtedly be a catastrophic epitaph to the already sad saga of COVID-19.