Teachers may be bigger drivers of COVID-19 in schools than students: U.S. CDC study

A new study finds that teachers in the United States may be more important drivers of COVID-19 transmission in schools than students.

The paper released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies nine COVID-19 transmission clusters in elementary schools in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta in December and January, That included one cluster where 16 teachers, students and relatives of students at home were infected.

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In only one of the nine clusters was a student clearly the first documented case, while a teacher was the first documented case in four clusters. In another four, the first case was unclear. Of the nine clusters, eight involved probable teacher-to-student transmission. Two clusters saw teachers infect each other during in-person meetings or lunches, with a teacher then infecting other students.

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“Educators were central to in-school transmission networks,” the authors wrote.

The findings line up with studies from the United Kingdom that found teacher-to-teacher was the most common type of school transmission there, and a German study that found in-school transmission rates were three times higher when the first documented case was a teacher.

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Other research has suggested that there’s low transmission of viruses and that schools should reopen, a message that President Joe Biden’s administration has been pushing in recent weeks to mixed success. Marietta, like all but a handful of Georgia districts, has been offering in-person classes since the fall.

All the Marietta clusters also involved “less than ideal physical distancing,” with students often less than 3 feet apart, although plastic dividers were placed on desks.

“Physical distancing of greater than 6 feet was not possible because of the high number of in-person students and classroom layouts,” the authors wrote.

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