Over this past academic year, UTM has shifted the majority of courses online. Certain courses continued in-person and the campus remained open with modified hours for certain buildings and services. For those regularly visiting the campus, masks were made mandatory. As we near the fall semester of 2021, it is unclear how online and in-person learning will proceed.
Numerous findings from several US states have examined how significantly precaution measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 actually affect transmission of the virus. A study from K-12 schools in Missouri allowing in-person learning published their findings on March 19, 2021, in the journal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“This work is imperative because keeping kids in school provides not only educational enrichment but also social, psychological, and emotional health benefits, particularly for students who rely on school-based services for nutritional, physical, and mental health support,” Johanna S. Salzer, one of the researchers on the study, told ScienceDaily.
The study, led by Patrick Dawson, involved 57 public schools and two private schools in St. Louis Cunty and the Springfield Public School District in Greene County in southwest Missouri. Each of these schools made it mandatory for students and staff, on campus or busses, to wear masks. They also emphasized hygiene, physical distancing, and daily screenings for Covid-19. They installed physical barriers within classrooms, permitted virtual learning, and increased ventilation within buildings.
These schools notified the research team of any infected or quarantined student or staff member for two weeks in December. Someone could be quarantined if they were in close contact of someone infected by Covid-19. The study involved 193 participants. Of them, 37 (24 students and 13 staff members) were infected and 156 (137 students and 19 staff members) were close contacts. Only 102 of these close contacts agreed to a saliva test to test for infection; two of these people received positive results.
Despite high rates of transmission in December, no outbreaks occurred in the participating schools. This was true even when Springfield schools permitted students who had been in contact with those infected to stay in school.
“Schools with proper prevention strategies remain a safe environment for students and teachers during the pandemic,” said Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Jason Newland, one of the study’s lead researchers, agreed: “Schools can operate safely during a pandemic when prevention strategies are followed. The pilot study demonstrates low transmission in schools and no student-to-teacher transmission—and this was during the height of the pandemic in December, with high rates of community spread.” Newland has advised school districts in Missouri on reopening schools.
This study also examined strategies to prevent transmission of Covid-19 and quarantine policies. “We are pleased to continue to work on this joint project with the CDC, Washington University, and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department,” said Jean Grabeel, director of health services for Springfield Public Schools. “The initial results helped verify that our mitigation strategies have been successful in the school setting. This continued work will help to further guide the full-time return of students to in-person learning, five days a week, in a safe manner.”
Mark T. Miles, superintendent of the Rockwood School District with over 22,268 students, agreed: “I am grateful for Rockwood’s opportunity to participate in this collaboration. We all share the same priority: keeping schools safe for students, teachers and staff as well as the community at large.”