Teachers may play a bigger role in transmitting COVID-19 in schools than young students, suggests a small new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For the study, researchers investigated transmission of COVID-19 in eight public elementary schools in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, between December 1, 2020 and January 22, 2021. In total, about 2,600 attended. students and 700 staff members. these six schools at that time.
During the study period, the researchers identified nine clusters of COVID-19 cases involving a total of 13 educators and 32 students in six of the elementary schools. (One group was defined as at least three linked cases of COVID-19.)
In four of the groups, an educator was the “index patient” or initial case, and a student was the index patient in only one group. In the other four groups, the index patient was not determined. Eight of the nine groups involved probable transmission from educators to students.
Two of the largest groups involved teacher-to-teacher transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which likely occurred during in-person meetings or lunch breaks. The infected teachers later transmitted the disease to various students. Overall, these two groups were responsible for about half (15 of 31) of the school-associated cases in the study, not including index cases, the authors said.
Related: CDC Releases New Guidelines for Safe Reopening Schools
The findings suggest that educators were “critical” to the transmission networks of COVID-19 in schools, the authors wrote in their article, published Monday (February 22) in the CDC journal. Weekly morbidity and mortality report. “Initial infections among educators played a substantial role in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at school and subsequent chains of infection … highlighting the importance of preventing infections among educators in particular,” they said.
The CDC findings come just over a week after the agency released detailed guidelines on how safely reopen US schools.
The findings are also consistent with those of previous studies from Europe. For example, a study in the UK found that educator-to-educator transmission of COVID-19 was more common in schools than student-to-student transmission, and a study from Germany found that rates of Transmission of COVID-19 in schools they were three times higher when the index patient was a teacher compared to when the index patient was a student.
Measures to prevent COVID-19 infection in teachers, including measures to minimize in-person interactions between adults at school, will likely reduce COVID-19 transmission in schools, the authors wrote. In fact, they noted that the Georgia school district in the study has already made changes to reduce in-person interactions between educators. Vaccination of teachers can also help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools, although the authors noted that vaccinating teachers is not a requirement for reopening schools.
The study also found that the majority of COVID-19 transmission cases at school occurred when there was “less than ideal physical distancing,” meaning that students and teachers were very close to each other; and the students were not wearing the masks correctly. This underscores the need to promote “proper use of masks and physical distancing whenever possible” in schools, the authors wrote. Physical distancing is particularly important during meals, when masks are not worn, they said.
Originally posted on Live Science.