A new study has found that there is no clear connection between the reopening of schools and coronavirus outbreaks – and most countries in a second coronavirus wave have reopened schools.The study, conducted by Insights for Education, analyzed data from 191 countries over a seven-month period. Most schools in the Middle East have been at least partially closed as of October 1, while they were at least partially open in most other regions.Within about three weeks of the WHO's announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, 96% of the 191 countries which were part of the study had closed their schools at least partially. Six months later, 125 countries have at least partially reopened their schools, even though many of these countries have higher case levels than when they first closed schools.Nearly half of the world's 1.6 billion primary and secondary students will not return to school in 2020, according to estimates by the global advisory organization, with the vast majority of students who will not return coming from lower-income countries.The study found that there is no consistent pattern between the opening of schools and infections levels, as the reality is more complex and depends on a number of factors.While Covid-19 cases dropped in some countries after schools closed, they rose in others. Insights for Education stressed that no connections to school openings could be clearly drawn.Some 52 countries experienced an increase in cases after schools closed, with six countries, including Spain, Israel, Bahrain, France, Trinidad and Tobago, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, showing significant increases.Only 9% of countries experiencing their second wave of coronavirus are keeping schools open, according to the study. Only four countries have fully closed their schools: Costa Rica, Iran, Jordan and Lebanon. Most schools in Israel closed after reopening in September when coronavirus cases skyrocketed.The study also found that countries that have fully reopened are unlikely to reclose.
The countries that have reopened seem to be mostly pursuing more localized strategies, shutting down specific schools, conducting rapid testing and reopening them in a matter of days. These countries are also attempting to formulate guidelines to help prevent outbreaks, including masks, social distancing, testing and transparency guidelines.
The study by Insights for Education corroborates with findings by a team of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem which found that the opening of the educational system in Israel was not the cause for the increase in coronavirus infections in Israel.
“With the rise in coronavirus morbidity in September, an accusatory finger was pointed at the opening of the education system… We deny this and claim that children up to age 10 are not the catalyst for the spread of pandemic,” said the researchers who called for returning children under the age of 10 to school.
According to the team’s research, children who do contract coronavirus have milder cases, and the mortality rate of children under the age of 10 is almost zero. There is also a direct link between the age of the child and the chance of infection; many studies indicated that children under 10 are infected at as much as half the rate of older children and adults.
There were very few cases of infection from children to teachers in educational settings, and usually it was the other way around, the report said.
Already on September 1 and 2, the first days of school in the general system, there was a spike in infection, said Ora Paltiel, a professor of epidemiology at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health.
“If we see a spike so quickly, it cannot be because of exposure [in the school],” she said.
As such, the HU team believes the summer break, during which parents and children traveled, stayed at hotels and went camping, led to an increase in infection. When children started school, they were already infected.
When Israel entered its second lockdown on September 18, most schools were closed throughout the country.
Immediately after lockdown is the ideal time to send young children back to school because any infection that might have been among families would have spread and passed, said Paltiel.