The vast majority of Vancouver students and staff who tested positive for COVID-19 last year were infected outside the school environment, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia analyzed data on cases involving students and staff identified by public health officials in the Vancouver School District. Between April and June 2021, the team also tested the blood of nearly 1,700 teachers in the district and conducted in-depth contract tracing for students and staff.
Sixty-nine cases of the virus were identified between kindergarten and grade 12, and of the 229 close contacts identified for those individuals, only three had tested positive. Two of these were detected by asymptomatic testing.
Ninety percent of transmission took place outside of schools, said Dr. Pascal Lavoie, BC Children’s Hospital pediatrician and UBC professor.
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“The data… is all very consistent,” he told Global News.
“Kids don’t stop socializing outside of school. That’s the part that people don’t necessarily take into account when they (say) there are so many cases in schools.”
Of the 69 COVID-19 cases discovered by the team, 94 percent were among students and 6 percent were among staff.
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The research team compared its findings with Canadian Blood Services data on antibody testing positivity among Vancouver residents by age, gender and zip code. The positivity rate for teachers they tested was no different from the general population, Lavoie said.
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“It was more connected to their residential area, where the teachers lived, than where they worked.”
The study, released by the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, has not yet been peer-reviewed.
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Antibody blood tests were also conducted in the Surrey and Delta school districts, but those data have not yet been released. Investigators did not conduct contact tracing in those schools.
As a result of the Vancouver findings, however, Lavoie and Dr. Louise Mâsse, a UBC professor, behavioral scientist and researcher at BC Children’s Hospital, that routine asymptomatic testing would become part of the prevention plan in schools.
“There is basically a consensus among the pediatric community in Canada about the urgency and importance of doing everything society can to keep schools open, in light of all these observations,” Lavoie said. “Children need to see other children.”
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The research was conducted as the Delta variant of care began its rapid spread around the world. The team plans to continue the research to see if the patterns are the same for the Omicron variant, with testing likely to take place in the spring.
“We are going back to the schools and again collecting blood from the teachers of those three school districts,” Lavoie said.
“The longer we wait, the more likely we are to contract all infections. We are in no hurry.”
The COVID-19 Immunity Task Force was launched by the federal government in 2020 to catalyze and fund research into the pandemic for use by decision-makers across the country.
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