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Basic pandemic safety limits spread in schools

Enlarge / Masks and distancing work in the classrooms, too. (credit: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

Can schools be kept open safely even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues largely unchecked? So far, the data has been mixed. Studies of spread in schools seem to suggest they’re not a major source of infections. But when countries that shut their schools as part of a package of pandemic restrictions were compared to those that didn’t, the ones that had schools shut down had a lower overall rate of infection. So, the record on opening schools seems a bit mixed.

Yesterday, the CDC released a detailed look at the spread of SARS-CoV-2 within a single school system in rural Wisconsin. While the results come from a time before the new, more easily spread strains had evolved, they show that some of the measures laid out in guidelines on how to safely reopen schools work. Thanks to those precautions, infections in the school were down by 37 percent compared to infections in the community at large, and there were very few infections that occurred within the school. But it also raises an obvious question: if these measures work, why aren’t we all using them?

Appropriate cautions

The study started at the end of August 2020 and continued on through to the end of November. It focused on the schools of Wood County, Wisconsin, and tracked infections that took place among its faculty and staff as well as comparing those to the spread of the pandemic in the county as a whole. Overall, there were 4,876 students and 654 staff members included in the data.

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