Reopening Schools and the Dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Israel: A Nationwide Study

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Jan 18;ciab035. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciab035. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: The benefits of school reopening must be weighed against the morbidity and mortality risks and the impact of enhancing spread of COVID-19. We investigated the effects of school reopening and easing of social distancing restrictions on the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 infections in Israel, between March-July 2020.

Methods: We examined the nationwide agewise weekly incidence, prevalence, SARS-CoV-2 PCR tests, their positivity, COVID-19 hospitalizations and associated mortality. Temporal differences in these parameters following school reopening, school ending, and following easing of restrictions such as permission of large scale gatherings, were examined.

Results: The incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infections gradually increased following school reopening in all age groups, with a significantly higher increase in adults compared to children. Higher relative ratios (RRs) of sample positivity rates 21-27 days following school reopening relative to positivity rates prior to openings were found for the age groups 40-59 (RR: 4.72, 95% CI: 3.26 - 6.83) and 20-39 years (RR: 3.37 [2.51 - 4.53]), but not for children aged 0-9 (RR: 1.46 [0.85 - 2.51]) and 10-19 years (RR: 0.93 [0.65 - 1.34]).No increase was observed in COVID-19 associated hospitalizations and deaths following school reopening. In contrast, permission of large-scale gatherings was accompanied by increases in incidence and positivity rates of samples for all age groups, and increased hospitalizations and mortality.

Conclusions: This analysis does not support a major role of school reopening in the resurgence of the COVID-19 curve in Israel. Easing restrictions on large scale gatherings was the major influence on this resurgence.

Keywords: COVID-19; Children; Reopening; SARS-CoV-2; Schools.