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COVID-19 Projections for K12 Schools in Fall 2021: Significant Transmission without Interventions

By Yiwei Zhang, Karl Johnson, Zhuoting Yu, Akane Fujimoto, Kristen Hassmiller Lich, Julie Ivy, Pinar Keskinocak, Maria Mayorga, Julie L Swann

Posted 11 Aug 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.08.10.21261726

Background: Millions of primary school students across the United States are about to return to in-person learning. Amidst circulation of the highly infectious Delta variant, there is danger that without the appropriate safety precautions, substantial amount of school-based spread of COVID-19 may occur. Methods: We used an extended Susceptible-Infected-Recovered computational model to estimate the number of new infections during 1 semester among a student population under different assumptions about mask usage, routine testing, and levels of incoming protection. Our analysis considers three levels of incoming protection (30%, 40%, or 50%; denoted as "low", "mid", or "high"). Universal mask usage decreases infectivity by 50%, and weekly testing may occur among 50% of the student population; positive tests prompt quarantine until recovery, with compliance contingent on symptom status. Results: Without masking and testing, more than 75% of susceptible students become get infected within three months in all settings. With masking, this values decreases to 50% for "low" incoming protection settings ("mid"=35%, "high"=24%). Testing half the masked population ("testing") further drops infections to 22% (16%, 13%). Conclusion: Without interventions in place, the vast majority of susceptible students will become infected through the semester. Universal masking can reduce student infections by 26-78%, and biweekly testing along with masking reduces infections by another 50%. To prevent new infections in the community, limit school absences, and maintain in-person learning, interventions such as masking and testing must be implemented widely, especially among elementary school settings in which children are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

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