The Science Behind Keeping Schools Open. Part 2.

It is now mid November 2020. Our schools have been open, to some degree, since late mid August. As I mentioned, I believe the science says schools should be open, at this point. The question is, what does the data say about schools and the community now. In Part 3, I will discuss US data.

Data from England

There is robust data from England. So lets talk about what they have been doing there first. Since they went back to school in the UK, they have been doing school as normal. No mitigation, no masks, no social distancing, normal class sizes, the whole lot. Only recently have they had high school students use masks during passing periods. I believe that the UK is likely the best source of comparison to the US, it is a large and diverse population.

The first data set is from Public Health England, their weekly influenza and COVID-19 surveillance graphs. Data regarding school infection numbers starts at page 17. What stands out is rates in high school or secondary school aged children is flattening out after rising sharply after school started. Since this data is collected from symptomatic children it may be missing cases from asymptomatic children.

Survey data being collected by England’s Office of National Statistics shows a similar picture to the PHE data. School year age two to school year 6 has the lowest rates of school aged children. The updated data shows a slight increase in age 2-6th grade and 7th to 11th grade children but a continued decline in 12th grad to 24 year old range. With the weekly updated data the overall picture remains, transmission in school does not drive transmission in the community, transmission in the community drives transmission at school. Still low at primary school.

This is a screen capture, the quality is a little poor.
Updated graph

The Imperial College of London is performing study they call the Real Time Assessment of Community Transmission or REACT. They have and continue to collect tests on more than 160,000 people. This data is from October 16 and November 2. They noted a decline in positivity rates over this period from previous testing periods. They report that only time will tell if that is a trend or leveling off. For school aged children the data is more of the same from the previous two sources. This data also shows primary school children have the lowest odds for testing positive of school aged children. Secondary school aged children have the second highest odds for testing positive. We were all once high school children, we know what we did so we know what they do, we should know why their odds are higher.

My last UK report this one from the Children’s Task and Finish Group (TFC) for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE.) As a side, what is up with the UK and all their acronyms? REACT, TFC, SAGE, ONS, PHE. This data, again shows a lot of the same. Cases in children did increase after school openings but that growth followed growth seen in the community prior to school openings. So not necessarily 100% school related growth. They also note that for other countries there is no consistent pattern between school openings and increases in case numbers.

This TFC/SAGE data also reports on teachers. They find, so far, that there is no difference in positivity rates of teachers at any grade level relative to other workers of similar age. This study also confirms many things found in the data form before school opened. Children, young and old, are much less susceptible to severe clinical disease than older people. They also affirm the negative educational impact missing school has on children and their future. They also comment on the negative mental and physical health aspect missing school has on children.

+This was originally written the week of November 16, as of November 25 I cannot find any updated data.+

October 2020 EU COVID Study

In this October 2020 study the authors included a significant section on what occurred following schools reopening in Spain. Spain’s second wave of coronavirus cases started before the school year began in September. Still, cases in one region dropped three weeks after schools reopened, while others continued rising at the same rate as before, and one stayed flat. Nowhere, the research found, was there a spike that coincided with reopening.

Spain does extensive contact tracing so these authors were able to analyze how much schools are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus. They found found that, for all the students and staff who tested positive, 87% of them did not infect anyone else at the school. The authors of this study believe that schools do not have any major epidemic influencing effect. I think it is important to note, they are utilizing mitigation in Spanish schools.

Insights for Education Report

This is not a peer-reviewed study but a report issued by a foundation that advises education ministries around the world. Their assessment of the COVID issue in schools looks really similar to other sources. They find that there is no consistent pattern between school status and infections rates. Some schools opened when cases in countries with low rates, and the rates remained low. Some countries had rising cases, but those numbers fell as schools opened. In Japan cases rose and then fell all while schools where opened. Their data shows us that schools opening does not mean cases will go up.

What does all this Foreign Data Mean?

I think the best interpretation of this data is that it confirms the data complied before our schools opened. Schools do not drive community transmission but community transmission will affect the number of cases in the school. I think we can also see patterns that continue to play out. Primary school children transmit at low rates, mostly at home and rarely in schools. High School children transmit at rates higher than primary school children in the school. Teachers are not at any greater risk than other professions. Secondary transmission in schools occur at greater rates between teachers than between students and teachers or students and students.

Do we value education?

The biggest question we have to ask ourselves is; do we value education? We talk about how important education is. We argue over how best to show how we value it. Elections are fought over education. How can we be this passionate about education but then so easily close schools. While I know schools aren’t closed, remote learning isn’t the same. I fear remote learning might have larger repercussions for our civilization than COVID ever could.

I totally appreciate all our teachers are doing to adapt to remote learning. The teachers I talk to, though, have told me that this is not the same to normal learning. The teachers I know who work in disadvantaged areas are especially worried.

I an effort to do something right, I think much of this country is doing something very wrong.

Part III

So I meant this to be a two part topic, but there is too much to write about. Part III is already being put together.

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