What Does a More Contagious Virus Mean for Schools?
“When we look at what’s happened in the U.K. and think about this new variant, and we see all the case numbers going up, we have to remember it in the context of schools being open with virtually no modification at all,” Dr. Jenkins said. “I would like to see a real-life example of that kind of country or state or location, which has managed to control things in schools.”
There are some examples within the United States.
Erin Bromage, an immunologist at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, advised the governor of Rhode Island, as well as schools in southern Massachusetts, on preventive measures needed to turn back the coronavirus. The schools that closely adhered to the guidelines have not seen many infections, even when the virus was circulating at high levels in the community, Dr. Bromage said.
“When the system is designed correctly and we’re bringing children into school, they are as safe, if not safer, than they would be in a hybrid or remote system,” he said.
The school Dr. Bromage’s children attend took additional precautions. For example, administrators closed the school a few days before Thanksgiving to lower the risk at family gatherings, and operated remotely the week following the holiday.
Officials tested the nearly 300 students and staff at the end of that week, found only two cases, and decided to reopen.
“That gave us the confidence that our population was not representative of what we were seeing in the wider community,” he said. “We were using data to determine coming back together.”
The tests cost $61 per child, but schools that cannot afford it could consider testing only teachers, he added, because the data suggest the virus is “more likely to move from teacher to teacher than it is from student to teacher.”