School closures may reduce the size of social networks among children, potentially limiting infectious disease transmission. To estimate the impact of K-12 closures and reopening policies on children's social interactions and COVID-19 incidence in California's Bay Area, we collected data on children's social contacts and assessed implications for transmission using an individual-based model. Elementary and Hispanic children had more contacts during closures than high school and non-Hispanic children, respectively. We estimated that spring 2020 closures of elementary schools averted 2167 cases in the Bay Area (95% CI: -985, 5572), fewer than middle (5884; 95% CI: 1478, 11.550), high school (8650; 95% CI: 3054, 15 940) and workplace (15 813; 95% CI: 9963, 22 617) closures. Under assumptions of moderate community transmission, we estimated that reopening for a four-month semester without any precautions will increase symptomatic illness among high school teachers (an additional 40.7% expected to experience symptomatic infection, 95% CI: 1.9, 61.1), middle school teachers (37.2%, 95% CI: 4.6, 58.1) and elementary school teachers (4.1%, 95% CI: -1.7, 12.0). However, we found that reopening policies for elementary schools that combine universal masking with classroom cohorts could result in few within-school transmissions, while high schools may require masking plus a staggered hybrid schedule. Stronger community interventions (e.g. remote work, social distancing) decreased the risk of within-school transmission across all measures studied, with the influence of community transmission minimized as the effectiveness of the within-school measures increased.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; children social networks; contact rate; school closures and reopening; transmission model.