Estimating the impact of reopening schools on the reproduction number of SARS-CoV-2 in England, using weekly contact survey data

James D. Munday*, Christopher I. Jarvis, Amy Gimma, Kerry L.M. Wong, Kevin van Zandvoort, CMMID COVID-19 Working Group, Sebastian Funk, W. John Edmunds

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Schools were closed in England on 4 January 2021 as part of increased national restrictions to curb transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The UK government reopened schools on 8 March. Although there was evidence of lower individual-level transmission risk amongst children compared to adults, the combined effects of this with increased contact rates in school settings and the resulting impact on the overall transmission rate in the population were not clear. Methods: We measured social contacts of > 5000 participants weekly from March 2020, including periods when schools were both open and closed, amongst other restrictions. We combined these data with estimates of the susceptibility and infectiousness of children compared with adults to estimate the impact of reopening schools on the reproduction number. Results: Our analysis indicates that reopening all schools under the same measures as previous periods that combined lockdown with face-to-face schooling would be likely to increase the reproduction number substantially. Assuming a baseline of 0.8, we estimated a likely increase to between 1.0 and 1.5 with the reopening of all schools or to between 0.9 and 1.2 reopening primary or secondary schools alone. Conclusion: Our results suggest that reopening schools would likely halt the fall in cases observed between January and March 2021 and would risk a return to rising infections, but these estimates relied heavily on the latest estimates or reproduction number and the validity of the susceptibility and infectiousness profiles we used at the time of reopening.

Original languageEnglish
Article number233
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • CoMix
  • COVID-19
  • Reproduction number
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • School closure
  • Social contacts


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