Reopening schools without taking preventative measures may lead to a significant increase of COVID-19 in the population, states a new report released by Washington State Department of Health (DOH), Public Health – Seattle and King County, and the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM).
With data from King County, IDM used an agent-based model, Covasim, to simulate different scenarios and strategies for reopening schools alongside varying levels of community activity and mobility outside schools.
Simulating the first three months of the school year, September 1 to December 1, the report found that King County schools “may be able to reopen without sustained epidemic growth, but only with several countermeasures in place and if community-wide coronavirus transmission is low. Without any countermeasures, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the county could double over the three-month period.”
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Those conducting the study have been brainstorming different ways in which students can safely return to school. So far, they have thought of grouping students by age, practicing physical distancing, ensuring that masks are being worn, and having students practice safe hygiene.
The impact of these measures will still depend on the level of coronavirus transmission outside of schools. “Even with countermeasures, students and staff would need to be screened for symptoms daily and both work and community mobility would need to stay below a certain threshold.”
“Reopening schools cannot be considered in isolation – what happens outside of schools is as important as what happens inside of schools,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, DOH’s deputy secretary of health for the coronavirus response, in a press release. “The most important step we can take to reopen schools this fall is to come together to reduce spread of the virus in our communities and statewide.”