27th Jun, 2022

'Cautious reopening' of schools would not impact coronavirus contagion, University of Warwick study finds

John Carlon 6th Jun, 2020

UNIVERSITY of Warwick epidemiologists say schools could reopen – as long as other lockdown measures continue, to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Mathematical modelling by infectious diseases experts at Cryfield suggests primary schools could gradually reopen with a minimal impact on the Covid-19 reproduction value (R-value).

The scientists say the policy of reception years and years 1 and 6 returing to classrooms is unlikely to lead to a second wave of infection.

But they added the government should be prepared to reintroduce lockdown measures if there is a significant rise in the number of new cases.

The Warwick researchers say they used a detailed mathematical model that is calibrated against data on the age distribution of cases, as well as the changing numbers of those being hospitalised and dying as a result of the disease.

The researchers are then able to forecast the impact of school re-opening upon the reproduction number, R, and the expected increase in the number of cases of COVID-19 as a result of this change in policy.

The research is led by Professor Matt Keeling, director of the Zeeman Institute for Systems Biology and Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research (SBIDER) in collaboration with Dr Louise Dyson, Dr Ed Hill, Dr Mike Tildesley and others from the Zeeman Institute at the University of Warwick.

Professor Keeling said: “Our work indicates that the current policy of reception, year 1 and year 6 children returning to school is likely to result in a small increase in the reproduction number. In isolation this is unlikely to push R above 1 but there still remains uncertainty over the consequences of other recent changes that have relaxed the lockdown.”

Dr Dyson commented: “We predict that the return of secondary school children to the classroom will result in greater mixing between children than if only primary school children return. However it is important to note that any increase in mixing will likely lead to some increase in COVID-19 cases, even if the value of R remains below 1.”

Co-author Dr Tildesley added: “We would advise that the impact of any relaxation policy, including school re-openings, should be carefully monitored to establish the effect on the reproduction number and, if necessary, there should be a consideration of reintroduction of measures should there be a significant rise in cases in the future.”

Their paper is freely available here.

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