The Sheba Medical Center healthcare workers’ children’s school: can we open schools safely?
Objective: The role of school closure in mitigating coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) transmission has been questioned. In our medical centre, during a 9-week national lockdown, an alternative school was opened for health-care workers’ (HCW) children with a small number of children per class and strict symptom surveillance. After lockdown was lifted we screened children and their parents for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) serology.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study of HCW parents and their children after one teacher contracted COVID-19 following exposure at home and 53 children were exposed, isolated and tested by RT-PCR. We compared families with children attending the alternative school with families whose children who remained at home during the 9-week lockdown. Epidemiological and medical data were collected using a short questionnaire; nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs were obtained and tested for SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR, and blood was collected for SARS-CoV-2 IgA and IgG titres.
Results: A total of 435 children attended the Sheba alternative school. Among the 53 children exposed to the infected teacher, none tested positive by RT-PCR. Of these, 18 children-parent pairs were tested for serology and all were negative. A total of 106/435 (24%) children and their 78 parents were recruited for the cross-sectional study; 70 attended the Sheba school and 36 did not. Approximately 16% of children in either group reported symptoms (11/70 in the school group and 6/36 in the ‘stay home’ group), but SARS-CoV-2 was not detected by PCR in any, and previous exposure, as determined by serological tests, was low and not significantly different between the groups.
Conclusion: In an alternative school for children of HCWs, active during COVID-19 national outbreak, we found no evidence of increased infection compared with children that stayed home.