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On the effect of age on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in households, schools and the community

By Edward Goldstein, Marc Lipsitch, Muge Cevik

Posted 24 Jul 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.07.19.20157362

Background: There is limited information on the effect of age on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 infection in different settings, including primary, secondary and high schools, households, and the whole community. We undertook a literature review of published studies/data on detection of SARS-CoV-2 infection in contacts of COVID-19 cases, as well as serological studies, and studies of infections in the school setting to examine those issues. Results: Our literature review presents evidence for significantly lower susceptibility to infection for children aged under 10 years compared to adults given the same exposure, for elevated susceptibility to infection in adults aged over 60y compared to younger/middle aged adults, and for the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection associated with sleeping close to an infected individual. Published serological studies also suggest that younger adults (particularly those aged under 35y) often have high cumulative rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the community. Additionally, there is some evidence of robust spread of SARS-CoV-2 in secondary/high schools, and there appears to be more limited spread in primary schools. Some countries with relatively large class sizes in primary schools (e.g. Chile and Israel) reported sizeable outbreaks in some of those schools, though routes of transmission of infection to both students and staff are not clear from current reports. Conclusions: Opening secondary/high schools is likely to contribute to the spread of SARS-CoV-2, and, if implemented, it should require both lower levels of community transmission and greater safeguards to reduce transmission. Compared to secondary/high schools, opening primary schools and daycare facilities may have a more limited effect on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the community, particularly under smaller class sizes and in the presence of mitigation measures. Efforts to avoid crowding in the classroom and other mitigation measures should be implemented, to the extent possible, when opening primary schools. Efforts should be undertaken to diminish the mixing in younger adults to mitigate the spread of the epidemic in the whole community.

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