Background: During an evolving influenza pandemic, community mitigation strategies, such as social distancing, can slow down virus transmission in schools and surrounding communities. To date, research on school practices to promote social distancing in primary and secondary schools has focused on prolonged school closure, with little attention paid to the identification and feasibility of other more sustainable interventions. To develop a list and typology of school practices that have been proposed and/or implemented in an influenza pandemic and to uncover any barriers identified, lessons learned from their use, and documented impacts.
Methods: We conducted a review of the peer-reviewed and grey literature on social distancing interventions in schools other than school closure. We also collected state government guidance documents directed to local education agencies or schools to assess state policies regarding social distancing. We collected standardized information from each document using an abstraction form and generated descriptive statistics on common plan elements.
Results: The document review revealed limited literature on school practices to promote social distancing, as well as limited incorporation of school practices to promote social distancing into state government guidance documents. Among the 38 states that had guidance documents that met inclusion criteria, fewer than half (42%) mentioned a single school practice to promote social distancing, and none provided any substantive detail about the policies or practices needed to enact them. The most frequently identified school practices were cancelling or postponing after-school activities, canceling classes or activities with a high rate of mixing/contact that occur within the school day, and reducing mixing during transport.
Conclusion: Little information is available to schools to develop policies and procedures on social distancing. Additional research and guidance are needed to assess the feasibility and effectiveness of school practices to promote social distancing.
Keywords: Pandemic influenza; School planning; Social distancing.