In the wake of U.S. recommendations to re-open schools, a new government report indicates that teachers may be key spreaders of COVID-19 in schools and should be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that educators were responsible for recent clusters of COVID-19 in suburban Atlanta schools. Teacher vaccination should therefore be part of efforts to control spread of the virus in classrooms, the scientists said.
Vaccinating educators, along with universal mask-wearing, physical distancing and other measures like hand-washing, could be important to getting U.S. kids back into classrooms safely, according to the report published Feb. 22 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“Although not required for reopening schools, COVID-19 vaccination should be considered as an additional mitigation measure to be added when available,” wrote researchers led by Dr. Jeremy Gold, an epidemic intelligence service officer for the CDC.
The CDC recently stressed the importance of getting kids back into classrooms and issued guidelines for doing that safely. Understanding how the coronavirus spreads in schools is critical to reopening plans, said Gold’s team.
To that end, the researchers investigated COVID transmission at eight public elementary schools in Cobb County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, between Dec. 1 and Jan. 22. COVID incidence in the county increased almost 300% during that time, from 152 to 577 cases.
In the one school district investigated, nine clusters of cases were identified at six of eight schools, with 13 educators and 32 students affected. Two of those clusters seem to have started with teacher-to-teacher transmission, during in-person meetings or lunches. That in turn led to teacher-to-student transmission, eventually accounting for one-half of school-related cases, researchers found.
“Educators were central to in-school transmission networks,” the researchers wrote.
To reduce the possibility of transmission, they recommended teacher vaccination plus multiple other measures, “including promotion of COVID-19 precautions outside of school, minimizing in-person adult interactions at school, and ensuring universal and correct mask use and physical distancing among educators and students when in-person interaction is unavoidable.”
Other studies have also found that adults are important COVID spreaders in schools. In one, a large U.K. study, teacher-to-teacher transmission was the most common source of school infection. Another large study conducted in German schools found that in-school transmission rates were three times higher when the initial case started with a teacher as opposed to a student.
In its recent guidelines for schools, the CDC said that besides mask-wearing, physical distancing and hand hygiene, schools need to undertake thorough cleaning and disinfection practices. Also needed: rapid contact tracing by local health departments whenever new infections occur.
President Joe Biden has set a goal of reopening most K-12 schools during his first 100 days of office, but has stressed that medical science will dictate the means by which schools safely reopen.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on staying safe from COVID-19.
SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Feb. 22, 2021