Story at a glance
- Many schools are preparing to return to in-person learning in the fall.
- A school in Virginia tested for the coronavirus every two weeks in their students and staff.
- There were 37 students who tested positive for the coronavirus, but there were no reported transmissions to other students or adults.
Many schools are preparing to return fully in person this fall. With the delta variant now the dominant variant of the coronavirus, there are concerns about how to do this safely. In a study published in the Journal of School Health, researchers report COVID-19 cases among K-12 students who took school buses between August 2020 and March 2021. They collected data from 462 students who took 15 school buses to and from an independent school in Virginia.
“The pandemic has made it very difficult for public schools to meet the transportation needs of students,” said corresponding author and physician Dana Ramirez of Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in a press release. “Many districts simply do not have enough buses and drivers to allow distancing of 3-6 feet or skipping of bus rows while still providing rides to all children.”
The students, including those not taking the bus, were tested for SARS-CoV-2 every two weeks by pooled saliva polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. In total, there were more than 1,000 students. Two students sat in every seat on the bus with 2.5 feet of social distancing. Some buses were near full capacity while others were less full, and the middle and last two windows were opened by 1 inch. Seven buses had an aide in addition to a driver, and everyone wore masks.
There were 37 COVID-19 cases among the students taking buses during this time period. As a result, 52 students had to quarantine. These exposed students tested negative for the coronavirus and remained asymptomatic. One driver and one aide also tested positive for the coronavirus during the time periods when buses were running, but there were no transmissions to students.
The authors write, “COVID-19 transmission can be low during student transport when employing mitigation including simple ventilation, and universal masking, at minimal physical distances and during the highest community transmission.”
The researchers hope that this study will help schools plan for the start of a new school year in the fall.
“With more students returning to face-to-face instruction, safe transportation to school is an equity issue, as many families are unable to drive their children to school each day,” Ramirez said. “We hope the model we describe and our data can be of assistance in demonstrating that school buses can safely operate at normal capacity even at high community COVID-19 case loads.”
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