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Shut and re-open: the role of schools in the spread of COVID-19 in Europe

By Helena B Stage, Joseph Shingleton, Sanmitra Ghosh, Francesca Scarabel, Lorenzo Pellis, Thomas James Ronald Finnie

Posted 26 Jun 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.06.24.20139634

We investigate the effect of school closure and subsequent reopening on the transmission of COVID-19, by considering Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and German states as case studies. By comparing the growth rates in daily hospitalisations or confirmed cases under different interventions, we provide evidence that the effect of school closure is visible as a reduction in the growth rate approximately 9 days after implementation. Limited school attendance, such as older students sitting exams or the partial return of younger year groups, does not appear to significantly affect community transmission. A large-scale reopening of schools while controlling or suppressing the epidemic appears feasible in countries such as Denmark or Norway, where community transmission is generally low. However, school reopening can contribute to significant increases in the growth rate in countries like Germany, where community transmission is relatively high. Our findings underscore the need for a cautious evaluation of reopening strategies that ensure low classroom occupancy and a solid infrastructure to quickly identify and isolate new infections.

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