Study finds coronavirus school closures can have only limited effect on stopping spread

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New study by researchers at University College London says recent studies in Covid-19 modeling suggest that school closures alone will only prevent 2% to 4% of deaths – far less than other social distancing interventions.

The research, published Monday evening in the medical journal The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, reviewed 16 studies on past epidemics of SARS, MERS and seasonal flu, as well as others modeling the spread of the new coronavirus, and found that the evidence supporting national school closings to combat Covid-19 is “very weak”.

“Data from the SARS epidemic in mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore suggest that school closings did not help control the epidemic,” the researchers said.

Of the first nearly 45,000 confirmed cases in China, there have been no deaths under the age of 10. In the United States, cases of Covid-19 in children represented less than 2% of the 149,760 laboratory-confirmed cases that occurred in the country between February 12 and April 2.

But while their symptoms may be mild compared to those experienced by adults with the virus, children can still pass Covid-19 to more vulnerable people, which is why many governments have decided to close the schools.

According to UNESCO, nationwide school closings currently affect more than 91% of the world’s student population, or approximately 1.6 billion children and young adults. The UN agency said 188 countries have implemented closures nationwide.

It’s not something that policy makers decided on a whim. Past experience has shown that closing schools at the start of a seasonal flu epidemic can help slow the spread of the disease and reduce the number of people who fall ill. But the UCL study suggests that while this may be true for the flu – which tends to spread through children – it does not necessarily hold true for epidemics of other diseases.

Some closed coronavirus schools in the United States do not return for the rest of the school year

Scientists suggest that policymakers should consider other “less disruptive social distancing interventions in schools,” especially if pandemic-related restrictions are to be in place for a long time.

Keeping schools open to the children of key workers, or spreading out the start and end times of school, may be a way to move forward. Another option may be to closely monitor student health, for example through temperature controls and sending children with symptoms to their homes.

But some experts have warned against jumping to conclusions based on a study.

Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London and author of the epidemiological study that informed the British government’s plan to fight the epidemic, told the Science Media Center that the researchers from UCL did not take into account the impact of school closings in combination with other locking measures.

“While closing schools as a measure alone should have limited effectiveness in controlling the transmission of Covid-19, when combined with intense social distancing, it plays an important role in severing contact remaining between households, and thus guarantee a decrease in transmission, ”he added. said.

More and more states are extending school closings, some until the end of the school year

When considering whether or not to close schools, policymakers must balance the need to protect public health with the enormous disruptive effects that these closings can cause.

Scientists are increasingly warning of the potential impact of long-term school closings on children’s mental health and well-being, warning that more research is needed.

“Longer schools, colleges and universities are closed, we risk the mental health and well-being of children and youth who are vulnerable due to the situation created by self-isolation and social distancing policies “Catherine Carroll-Meehan, of the School of Education and Sociology at the University of Portsmouth, told the Science Media Center.

As children are forced to stay at home, a large proportion of working parents are likely to be out of work.

Previous studies in the United Kingdom and the United States have shown that up to 30% of health care workers have children to care for if schools are closed. A separate study published in The Lancet last week estimated that one in seven front-line medical workers in the United States may miss work to care for their children when American schools are closed.

Another common solution – leaving children with their grandparents – is particularly risky in the case of Covid-19, since the elderly are among the most vulnerable to the virus.

The economic costs of closing schools can quickly snowball. Studies in the United States have shown that up to 3% of US GDP could be lost following an eight-week closure of American schools.

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