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Improving school-based models via contact surveys

Abstract

Physical distancing measures, including school closures, have been enacted globally to reduce close contacts between infectious and susceptible individuals and mitigate the transmission of the Severe Acute Respiratory Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The San Francisco Bay Area (California) was the first region in the United States to adopt physical distancing measures and close schools on March 17, 2020. School closures present a grave threat to healthy child development and may exacerbate existing racial and socioeconomic gaps in school achievement and nutrition. As such, there is an urgent need to assess the effectiveness of school closures on reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission and weigh risks of school reopening policies. Yet lack of empirical data on contact patterns of children and their family members during long-term closures limits our full understanding of the impact of closures on the population as a whole and among population sub-groups. While results of previous contact surveys have shown that children significantly reduce contacts over short-term closures and weekends and holidays, the current, unprecedented, long-term closures are likely to profoundly alter the contact networks of school children in ways that have not been observed under short-term closures or holidays. We identify three critical gaps that robust estimation of children’s social network throughout the pandemic would help fill.