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SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission in educational settings: cross-sectional analysis of clusters and outbreaks in England

By Sharif A Ismail, Vanessa Saliba, Jamie Lopez-Bernal, Mary E Ramsay, Shamez Ladhani

Posted 24 Aug 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.08.21.20178574

BACKGROUND There are limited data on SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission in educational settings. This information is critical for policy makers and practitioners to ensure the safety of staff, students and the wider community during the COVID-19 pandemic. METHODS Public Health England initiated enhanced national surveillance following the reopening of educational settings during the summer mini-term on 01 June 2020. COVID-19 related situations in educational settings across England were reviewed daily and followed-up until 31 July 2020. SARS-CoV-2 infection and outbreak rates were calculated for staff and students attending early year settings, primary and secondary schools during June 2020. FINDINGS There were 67 single confirmed cases, 4 co-primary cases and 30 COVID-19 outbreaks during June 2020, with a strong correlation between number of outbreaks and regional COVID-19 incidence (0.51 outbreaks for each SARS-CoV-2 infection per 100,000 in the community; p=0.001). Overall, SARS-CoV-2 infections and outbreaks were uncommon across all educational settings. Staff members had an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infections compared to students in any educational setting, and the majority of cases linked to outbreaks were in staff. The probable transmission direction for the 30 confirmed outbreaks was: staff-to-staff (n=15), staff-to-student (n=7), student-to-staff (n=6) and student-to-student (n=2). INTERPRETATION SARS-CoV-2 infections and outbreaks were uncommon in educational settings during the first month after the easing of national lockdown in England. The strong correlation with regional SARS-CoV-2 incidence emphasises the importance of controlling community transmission to protect educational settings. Additional interventions should focus on reducing transmission in and among staff members. FUNDING None.

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