A two-week pilot study involving some Missouri K-12 schools says the risk of spreading COVID-19 in schools is rare – if certain safety measures are taken. The results are similar to those of other states who have evaluated coronavirus transmission in schools.
Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, was involved in the investigation. He tells Missourinet 57 schools in St. Louis County and Springfield-Greene County were involved in the effort.
“We have learned that doing this safely to not have transmission, you need to do certain things, which is the things we talked about throughout the pandemic – wearing a mask, using distancing, which we learned could be three feet in the school, keeping kids out that were ill, washing their hands. These factors in our study were key and were important to show rare transmission in schools. I think that’s great. I think we’ve learned that by doing these things we can have school in-person that can be safe not only for our students but also for our staff and teachers,” Newland says.
At the beginning of December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came to Missouri to partner with the state and work on the first-of-its-kind COVID-19 study. Newland tells Missourinet thousands of students and teachers were involved.
“The final numbers of the cases that we had, we had 56 cases, 270 contacts that we identified in 22 of these 57 schools. So, that also demonstrates that you just don’t have always a lot of cases. This was done in December, when we had the height of our pandemic in our communities. So, I think that is also important to remember that we were doing this when a lot of people said, ‘Wow, you are crazy to be in school.’ But we had school and we showed rare transmission during that time,” says Newland.
For months, most of Missouri’s K-12 schools have been learning in-person at least partially.
Two groups who were considered close contacts to someone with COVID-19 were tested over the course of the review. The first group included those wearing masks who were allowed to attend in-person classes. The other group contained individuals required to quarantine for 10-14 days, regardless of whether they were wearing a mask.
Newland says a more in-depth project about transmission in these schools is underway.
“We want to understand and have more numbers to be better with our conclusions,” he says. “One of the important things in the pilot was investigating this modified quarantine versus the full quarantine. In the pilot, we learned that nobody that was placed in this modified quarantine was positive. So, we are doing more investigation with the full project. The key here is that the modified quarantine’s goal is to provide these contacts, where we think is a low, low risk situation, the opportunity to remain in in-person school because of all the benefits of in-person school, beyond just the education but the social supports, the food supports, all these things that schools provide. We thought this is extremely important because we needed the data. So, our pilot project was a way to start at least looking at the data. It doesn’t give you definitive answers, but the current pilot project showed that among those 30 kids we were able to test, that were in modified quarantine, none of them tested positive. We had no transmission. I think we need more information on that and that’s what our full project is going to help do.”
The study is part of an ongoing collaboration involving the CDC, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis University, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Springfield-Greene and St. Louis County Health Departments and school districts in the St. Louis and Springfield areas. Three school districts in St. Louis County and three districts in Springfield-Greene County will be part of the contuing effort.
To view the findings of the pilot study, click here.
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