Amid the debate over the reopening of public schools closed for nearly a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new federal study on Monday indicated that when there were outbreaks on campus, they were driven primarily by infected teachers.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study examined nine clusters of cases in a Georgia elementary school district in suburban Atlanta.
“Educators were central to the broadcast networks in the school,” said the study, which also noted that “all nine broadcast groups involved less than ideal physical distancing and five involved inappropriate use of masks by students.” .
The CDC said that the outbreaks seen in the study from Dec. 1 to Jan. 22 do not contradict its guidance or recent evidence showing that schools can safely reopen even in communities where transmission of the virus is high, when they continue measures for wearing face masks and physical distancing.
“Previous research in other US school districts found that low transmission rates in schools can be sustained in the context of high community incidence,” the report said, suggesting a need for more “messages. to improve awareness among educators “about the risk of acquiring the virus from colleagues.
The national debate over school reopening has become especially heated in California, where most public schools, particularly in impoverished and large-city districts, lag far behind private, charter and wealth-rich public districts. the state and across the country in terms of when students return to the classroom.
As Governor Gavin Newsom, state legislators, district leaders, and unions representing public school teachers discuss when and how to reopen schools, parents are frustrated and impatient as their children struggle with lessons in line widely recognized as a poor substitute for classes taught in person. .
State lawmakers in the Assembly held informational hearings Monday on a legislative proposal backed by teachers’ unions and six of the state’s largest school districts, which Newsom and parents advocating for a faster return to school have criticized. The state Senate, where it awaits a budget committee hearing, did not address it on Monday.
The proposal would require elementary schools to reopen before April 15 at least for part-time in-person hybrid instruction when their county’s infection rates drop to the second-highest red level in the state. Newsom, whose own plan does not set a firm reopening requirement, and parent groups have criticized the legislative proposal for not going far enough to reopen schools quickly.
In the Georgia district studied by the CDC, 2,600 students and 700 staff members attended school in person. The nine clusters of cases involved 13 educators and 32 students in six of the district’s eight elementary schools, or just under 2% of staff and 1.2% of students.
The CDC also said the findings are consistent with studies in the UK and Germany that found that the most common transmission on campuses was among adult educators, who were three times more likely to spread the virus on campus than students. .
Eight of the nine groups of cases observed involved at least one educator and “probable educator-to-student transmission.” In four of the groups, educators were the index case, the one believed to have been infected first and to start the outbreak. A student was the index case in only one group, and in the other four it could not be determined whether it started with a student or a teacher.
Two groups that accounted for nearly half of the school-related cases involved probable educator-to-educator transmission during in-person meetings or lunches, followed by educator-to-student transmission in the classroom.
The study said 69 exposed household members of those with school-associated cases were tested for COVID-19, and 18, or about one in four, were confirmed to be infected.
The authors noted that although plastic dividers were placed on desks between students, due to the large number of students in the class and the layout of the building, they sat less than three feet apart, half the standard distance of six feet recommended by the CDC.
They also said that in seven groups, the transmission between educators and students could have occurred during “small group instruction sessions in which the educators worked closely with the students.”
And although the district required the use of masks in the classroom, except for eating, and compliance during site visits appeared high, interviews in the outbreak investigation revealed that “the lack or inappropriate use of masks by the students probably contributed to the spread in five groups. “
The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said in a statement Monday that the study “adds to a body of evidence showing that COVID-19 is communicable in schools without the guardrails in place.”
“School buildings can be safe for teachers and children, but layered mitigation and testing and tracing must be in place to curb the risk of transmission, with the availability of vaccines as another layer of protection,” Weingarten said. “We expect school districts to look closely at it.”