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Peer-reviewed study finds spread of COVID-19 in schools 'extremely limited'

Fears have persisted that coronavirus might spread rampantly among children.

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A New York City public school student
A New York City public school student
(Michael Loccisano/Getty)
Updated: January 13, 2021 - 6:06pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

A new peer-reviewed study has found that the spread of COVID-19 in surveyed elementary schools is "extremely limited," potentially lending hope to advocates who are pushing to reopen schools that have been shuttered in some cases for roughly a year. 

The study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics by the American Academy of Pediatrics, followed "11 participating school districts" with "more than 90,000 students and staff" present for in-person instruction.

"Across the 11 school districts," the researchers write, "773 community-acquired SARS-CoV-2 infections were documented by molecular testing; however, there were only 32 adjudicated cases of secondary transmission across the 11 districts combined in 9 weeks of instruction."

Within the surveyed populations over the nine-week period, "we found extremely limited within-school secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2, determined by contact tracing," the authors write.

The researchers, affiliated with the University of North Carolina and Duke University, also wrote that they observed "no cases of child-to-adult within-school transmission."

Governors and local officials across the United States in the past year shuttered school districts for prolonged periods over fears that school buildings would become hotbeds of COVID-19 spread. Yet considerable evidence has emerged to suggest that schools—particularly those with younger students—are unlikely to be major vectors for the coronavirus. 

As early as May of last year, researchers in Australia were reporting that COVID-19 appears to spread among schoolchildren "considerably less than ... other respiratory viruses."

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