But that study, Apoorva said, did not consider lax enforcement of safety standards in schools — like not requiring masks.
“Schools were open without precautions,” she said. “They didn’t take into account all those other factors. That fueled a lot of fear about this variant being more contagious in kids, and that somehow the protection that kids seem to have didn’t exist with the new variant. That did not turn out to be the case.”
Where do you get that “half as likely” metric?
Although there were a lot of infections in schools, contact tracing added complexity to the story. Data from about 20,000 people infected with the new variant — including nearly 3,000 children under 10 — showed that young children were about half as likely as adults to transmit the variant to others.
“The variant is more contagious, but it’s more contagious across all age groups,” Apoorva said. “If kids were half as likely to be infected before, they’re also half as likely to be infected now.”
What does this mean for schools?
“We already know how to make schools relatively safe,” Apoorva said.
A mask mandate is a must, she said, as is physical distancing. Good ventilation matters — open windows will get air circulating and even an inexpensive air filter can make a big difference. Extensive testing and contact tracing is key. The new variant will result in more infections in children unless schools shore up their precautions, experts told Apoorva.
“We know that these measures work, but only if they’re actually enforced,” she said. “That becomes that much more important with this variant because it’s so much more contagious.”
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, echoed the need for mitigation (with masks, distancing, ventilation and cleaning), testing and appropriate quarantines. She also prioritized reasonable accommodations between teachers’ unions and districts, as well as vaccinating adults who work in school buildings.