Introduction: The reopening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has raised concern for the safety of staff and students, their families and the wider community. We monitored SARS-CoV-2 infection rates in school-aged children and compared them with adult infection rates before and after schools reopened in England. Methods: Public Health England receives daily electronic reports of all SARS-CoV-2 tests nationally. SARS-CoV-2 infection rates by school year from July to December 2020 were analysed, including the effect of a national month-long lockdown whilst keeping schools open in November 2020 Results: SARS-CoV-2 infections rates were low during early summer but started increasing in mid-August, initially in young adults followed by secondary and then primary school-aged children prior to schools reopening in September 2020. Cases in school-aged children lagged behind and followed adult trends after schools reopened, with a strong age gradient in weekly infection rates. There was a strong (P<0.001) correlation in regional infection rates between adults and secondary (R2=0.96–0.98), primary (R2=0.93–0.94) and preschool-aged (R2=0.62–0.85) children. The November lockdown was associated with declines in adult infection rates, followed a week later, by declines in student cases. From 23 November 2020, cases in adults and children increased rapidly following the emergence of a more transmissible novel variant of concern (VOC-202,012/01; B.1.1.7). Conclusions: In school-aged children, SARS-CoV-2 infections followed the same trajectory as adult cases and only declined after national lockdown was implemented whilst keeping schools open. Maintaining low community infection rates is critical for keeping schools open during the pandemic.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This surveillance was internally funded by PHE. SAI is supported by a Wellcome Trust Clinical Training Fellowship (Ref No 215654/Z/19/Z).