Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by children to contacts in schools and households: a prospective cohort and environmental sampling study in London

Rebecca Cordery, Lucy Reeves, Jie Zhou, Aileen Rowan, Patricia Watber, Carolina Rosadas, Michael Crone, Marko Storch, Paul Freemont, Lucy Mosscrop, Alice Cowley, Gina Zelent, Kate Bisset, Holly Le Blond, Sadie Regmi, Christian Buckingham, Ramlah Junaideen, Nadia Abdulla, Joseph Eliahoo, Miranda MindlinTheresa Lamagni, Wendy Barclay, Graham P. Taylor, Shiranee Sriskandan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Assessing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by children in schools is of crucial importance to inform public health action. We assessed frequency of acquisition of SARS-CoV-2 by contacts of pupils with COVID-19 in schools and households, and quantified SARS-CoV-2 shedding into air and onto fomites in both settings. Methods: We did a prospective cohort and environmental sampling study in London, UK in eight schools. Schools reporting new cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection to local health protection teams were invited to take part if a child index case had been attending school in the 48 h before a positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR test. At the time of the study, PCR testing was available to symptomatic individuals only. Children aged 2–14 years (extended to <18 years in November, 2020) with a new nose or throat swab SARS-CoV-2 positive PCR from an accredited laboratory were included. Incidents involving exposure to at least one index pupil with COVID-19 were identified (the prevailing variants were original, α, and δ). Weekly PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2 was done on immediate classroom contacts (the so-called bubble), non-bubble school contacts, and household contacts of index pupils. Testing was supported by genome sequencing and on-surface and air samples from school and home environments. Findings: Between October, 2020, and July, 2021 from the eight schools included, secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2 was not detected in 28 bubble contacts, representing ten bubble classes (participation rate 8·8% [IQR 4·6–15·3]). Across eight non-bubble classes, 3 (2%) of 62 pupils tested positive, but these were unrelated to the original index case (participation rate 22·5% [9·7–32·3]). All three were asymptomatic and tested positive in one setting on the same day. In contrast, secondary transmission to previously negative household contacts from infected index pupils was found in six (17%) of 35 household contacts rising to 13 (28%) of 47 household contacts when considering all potential infections in household contacts. Environmental contamination with SARS-CoV-2 was rare in schools: fomite SARS-CoV-2 was identified in four (2%) of 189 samples in bubble classrooms, two (2%) of 127 samples in non-bubble classrooms, and five (4%) of 130 samples in washrooms. This contrasted with fomites in households, where SARS-CoV-2 was identified in 60 (24%) of 248 bedroom samples, 66 (27%) of 241 communal room samples, and 21 (11%) 188 bathroom samples. Air sampling identified SARS-CoV-2 RNA in just one (2%) of 68 of school air samples, compared with 21 (25%) of 85 air samples taken in homes. Interpretation: There was no evidence of large-scale SARS-CoV-2 transmission in schools with precautions in place. Low levels of environmental contamination in schools are consistent with low transmission frequency and suggest adequate cleaning and ventilation in schools during the period of study. The high frequency of secondary transmission in households associated with evident viral shedding throughout the home suggests a need to improve advice to households with infection in children to prevent onward community spread. The data suggest that SARS-CoV-2 transmission from children in any setting is very likely to occur when precautions are reduced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e814-e823
JournalThe Lancet Microbe
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an Open Access article under the CC BY 4.0 license


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