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School dismissal as a pandemic influenza response: When, where and for how long?

Abstract

We used individual-based computer simulation models at community, regional and national levels to evaluate the likely impact of coordinated pre-emptive school dismissal policies during an influenza pandemic. Such policies involve three key decisions: when, over what geographical scale, and how long to keep schools closed. Our evaluation includes uncertainty and sensitivity analyses, as well as model output uncertainties arising from variability in serial intervals and presumed modifications of social contacts during school dismissal periods. During the period before vaccines become widely available, school dismissals are particularly effective in delaying the epidemic peak, typically by 4-6 days for each additional week of dismissal. Assuming the surveillance is able to correctly and promptly diagnose at least 5-10% of symptomatic individuals within the jurisdiction, dismissals at the city or county level yield the greatest reduction in disease incidence for a given dismissal duration for all but the most severe pandemic scenarios considered here. Broader (multi-county) dismissals should be considered for the most severe and fast-spreading (1918-like) pandemics, in which multi-month closures may be necessary to delay the epidemic peak sufficiently to allow for vaccines to be implemented.

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