COVID-19 Outbreaks Following Full Reopening of Primary and Secondary Schools in England: Retrospective, Cross-Sectional National Surveillance
31 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2021
Date Written: January 14, 2021
Background: The full reopening of schools in September 2020 was associated with an increase in COVID-19 cases and outbreaks in educational settings across England.
Methods: Primary and secondary schools reporting an outbreak (≥2 laboratory-confirmed cases within 14 days) to Public Health England (PHE) between 31 August and 18 October 2020 were contacted to complete an online questionnaire.
Interpretation: There were 969 primary (n=450) and secondary school outbreaks (n=519) reported to PHE, representing 3% of primary schools and 15% of secondary schools in England. Of the 369 schools contacted, 190 geographically-representative schools completed the questionnaire; 2,425 cases were reported. Secondary school students (1.20%; 95%CI, 1.13-1.28%) had higher attack rates than primary school students (0.84%; 95%CI, 0.75-0.94%). Outbreaks were larger and across more year groups in secondary schools than in primary schools. When an outbreak occurred, attack rates were higher in staff (926/19,083; 4.85%; 95%CI, 4.55-5.17%) than students, especially among primary school teaching staff (9.81%; 95%CI, 8.90-10.82%) compared to secondary school teaching staff (3.97%; 95%CI, 3.79-5.69%). Staff represented 59% (471/799) of cases in primary school outbreaks and 27% (410/1515) in secondary schools (P<0.001). Teaching staff were more likely to be the index case in primary (48/100, 48%) than in secondary (25/79, 32%) schools (P=0.027).
Conclusions: Secondary schools were more likely to be affected by a COVID-19 outbreak than primary schools and to experience larger outbreaks across multiple school years. The higher attack rate among teaching staff during an outbreak suggests that additional protective measures may be needed.
Note: Funding: This surveillance was internally funded by PHE and did not receive any specific grant funding from agencies in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Declaration of Interests: The authors declare no conflicts of interest
Ethics Approval Statement: PHE has legal permission, provided by Regulation 3 of The Health Service (Control of Patient Information) Regulations 2002, to process patient confidential information for national surveillance of communicable diseases and as such, individual patient consent is not required.
Keywords: SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, schools, children, transmission, outbreak
JEL Classification: G
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation