School teachers and staff may play a “central role” in transmitting Covid-19 in schools where social distancing isn’t followed and face masks aren’t worn. Vaccinating them against the disease could help return students to the classroom safely, according to a new federal study published Monday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated the coronavirus’ spread within eight Georgia public elementary schools in the same school district between Dec. 1 and Jan. 22, which included 24 in-person learning days. During this period, the average number of cases per 100,000 residents in the county increased nearly 300%, the study said.
The federal health agency, along with state and local public health departments, found nine Covid-19 “clusters” involving 13 educators and 32 students at six of the eight elementary schools.
The median cluster size — defined as three or more linked Covid-19 cases — was six people, and an educator was the “index patient,” or the first identified case, in four of those clusters, the CDC found. A student was the first patient in one cluster, while the other four clusters had an unidentifiable index patient.
All but one of the clusters involved “at least one educator and probable educator-to-student transmission,” the study found.
“Educators played an important role in the spread of Covid-19 in the schools. Covid-19 spread often occurred during in-person meetings or lunches and then subsequently spread in classrooms,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters at a briefing later Monday. ’“The two main reasons for the spread of Covid-19 in these schools were inadequate physical distancing and mask adherence in the schools.”
She said students weren’t able to practice social distancing because the classes were too full and the desks weren’t placed at least six feet apart.
In the study, the CDC researchers said they conducted interviews with parents, educators and school principals and studied seating charts, classroom layouts, physical distancing and compliance with recommended mask use during in-person learning to determine case links.
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