- Teachers transmitted the coronavirus to other staff and students in recent outbreaks in Georgia schools.
- Inappropriate masking and distancing may also have contributed to transmission at school.
- Combining multiple prevention strategies is the best way to avoid an outbreak.
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New research has found that teachers were instrumental in the transmission of COVID-19 in elementary schools.
The findings suggest that prioritizing school personnel in launching the ongoing vaccine could potentially reduce the spread of the virus in schools, allowing for safer reopening.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation was conducted in Cobb County, Georgia, where nine outbreaks of COVID-19 occurred in six elementary schools between December 1, 2020 and January 22, 2021. The CDC identified 32 cases of students and 13 cases of educators across schools, and at least 18 household contacts of those infected also tested positive.
At least two of the infection clusters began with educator-to-educator spread and continued when teachers exposed students to the virus, according to the report. Teachers tested positive in all groups except one.
“Across the groups, educators played an important role in the spread of COVID-19 in schools,” CDC Public Affairs Specialist Jasmine Reed told Insider in an email. “Although COVID-19 spread from student to educator and student to student, this happened less frequently.”
Teachers shared the virus during lunch and spread it during class.
Although the schools required students and staff to wear masks, some may have spread the coronavirus when face covers were removed for lunch.
After looking at the schools, the researchers determined that transmission between educators likely occurred during in-person meetings or lunches in at least two groups. Then teachers could have exposed students to the virus in the classroom.
This particular transmission pattern led to half of the student and teacher cases in the two schools in question, according to the report.
Inappropriate masking and distancing may also have led to infections
If the students had been properly masked and seated at a distance, the spread of the virus within the classroom could have been better contained.
But even though schools reported high levels of mask compliance, CDC researchers learned in interviews that not all students wore face covers correctly, and some did not wear them at all.
Additionally, students in this district generally sat less than three feet apart with plastic spacers between them. A distance of six feet away wasn’t possible given the high turnout and classroom layout, but experts have told Insider that partitions alone aren’t enough to stop the spread of the smallest virus-laden droplets.
Students also ate lunch in these classrooms, so it is possible that some student-to-student transmission occurred during that unmasked period.
Multiple levels of caution can help prevent outbreaks.
Previous research from the CDC has found that COVID-19 outbreaks can be prevented and mitigated with simple preventative measures.
The overnight camps in Maine managed to nip potential outbreaks in the bud by screening campers and counselors upon their arrival this summer. Although two staff members and one camper tested positive, the camps saw no secondary broadcast and enjoyed a nearly normal summer.
The camps combined multiple strategies including early identification and isolation, quarantine, masking, physical distancing, and grouping campers into small groups.
A similar multi-layered approach was also effective in child care settings, according to a Pediatrics study published in December.
“It’s like a piece of Swiss cheese,” Laura Blaisdell, lead author of the Maine report, previously told Insider. “Each layer has a limitation, and it is the placement of the layers one on top of the other that allows us to cover those holes.”