As summer winds down, back-to-school nerves wind up. But this year, parents and teachers may feel more nervous than the students. With little research available, the ubiquitous uncertainty of returning to schools during COVID-19 has adult anxiety spiraling. Thankfully, new Australian data on COVID-19 transmission in school offers some hope.
First Worldwide Study of COVID-19 in Schools Offers Promise
Encouraging research published in August by the University of Sydney reiterates an international point made throughout the pandemic. When practicing social distancing and safe hygiene protocols, spread remains minimal.
Research began in early March when a high school student first tested positive. According to Professor Kristine Macartney, Director for the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance (NCIRS) and a Professor of Pediatrics and Child Health at the University of Sydney, “transmission rates were minimal” in educational settings. The study, taking place in Australia’s largest state of New South Wales, has been monitoring COVID-19 testing throughout 3,800 schools and thousands of early childcare and education centers.
In her YouTube video, Macartney reports, “During the (initial) six week period we examined, in children there were only 98 cases, all together, in the whole state. So, in that 1.8 million population, just 98 were infected.”
If One Person Has COVID-19, Will the Entire School Get It?
After identifying the first case on March 5, researchers followed 914 close contacts (15% comprised of teachers). Testing found only five secondary contacts acquired the virus and two proved asymptomatic. Yet amazingly, contagion didn’t become widespread throughout the school.
This trail begins with an infected high school student. When reviewing 10 childcare centers, a staff member serves as the source of the only infection recorded. The other nine childcare centers were void of any COVID-19 transmission.
Upon review of the data, half of all cases in New South Wales occurred in staff or teachers. The other half were in students.
What safety measures will help?
In New South Wales, both schools and childcare are adhering to government recommendations. Practicing physical distancing, increased sanitation and hand-washing measures. Families have the option of virtual learning, though if learning in-person, temperature checks and masks aren’t a requirement.
Another difference worth noting? Australia ranks 69th globally for COVID-19, with under 20,000 cases. Their situation is vastly different from the top-ranked U.S., with just under 5 million cases. North Carolina isn’t far behind, with 131,267 total cases (1,979 new cases on August 6 alone).
The Australian study holds only a little sway for our state’s circumstance. Surely, if infection rates have remained higher in the community, COVID-19 will more quickly infiltrate schools. However, if communal numbers have begun declining, according to state recommendations, school settings will move back to a virtual model.