Schools should be opening with fewer students per classroom

COVID-19 pandemic is not going anywhere any time soon. And children are going to go back to school. Scientists say that rates of transmission between children or between children and adults are rather low. But does that mean that it is safe? A new study led by researchers from the University of Waterloo revealed that reopening schools could result in more COVID-19 cases.

School buses standing without work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Image credit: OregonDOT via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Because parents need to work and we all need to find ways to return to a normal life rhythm, schools will be opening. Scientists say that following some recommendations could prevent further outbreaks of COVID-19, originating in school. Researchers used a mathematical model to find optimal class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios. Currently in Canada policy makers are planning for class sizes of 30 students, but scientists say that it’s not ideal.

Computer simulations, which included six distinct room configurations, different child-to-educator ratios and family clustering, showed that the government might have chosen the wrong option. This study revealed that for childcare a 7:3 configuration with siblings clustered created the lowest risk. In comparison, 15:2 configuration experienced three to five times as many COVID-19 cases. Across the table having fewer students per class and grouping siblings together resulted  in significantly lower peaks of local COVID-19 statistics. For example, the total student-days lost to classroom closure were between five and eight times higher in the 15:2 ratios than for 8:2 or 7:3. Of course, schools are implementing important hygiene measures and social distancing, but scientists in this research did not find those procedures to affect the final results too much.

These results are not that surprising. Classrooms are typically not very big and children sit close to one another. It is important to maintain a bit of distance and a sufficient air flow. However, it is even more important to minimize contact – it is just easier to maintain less children in each classroom. Chris Bauch, lead researcher of the study, said: “when a classroom with more students is closed, it affects more students at a time. On top of this, having more students in a room facilitates transmission inside that classroom. High student-teacher ratios of the magnitude currently being planned in many school districts will result in disproportionately greater losses of in-person instruction than lower ratios.”

Schools are opening little by little across the globe. People understand that it is very important, because parents also need to return to work and children need education. COVID-19 is not going anywhere and we need to push forward. However, it is important to do it safely so that we wouldn’t fall into another complete lockdown.


Source: University of Waterloo

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