ATLANTA – Teachers could be a greater source of COVID-19 infections in schools than students, according to a new study released Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study evaluated nine outbreaks of COVID-19 in elementary schools in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta during December and January. Among them, there was an outbreak in which 16 teachers, students and their families became infected.
In only one of the nine outbreaks was a student the first recorded case, while a teacher was the first documented infection in four outbreaks. In the other four, the first case was unknown. Of the nine outbreaks, eight involved possible teacher-to-student transmission. In two outbreaks, teachers infected each other during in-person meetings or lunches, and a teacher spread the virus to other students.
“Teachers played a central role in the schools’ broadcast networks,” the study authors wrote.
The findings are similar to studies in Britain that found transmission between teachers to be the most common in schools there, and a German study found that transmission rates in schools were three times higher when the first recorded case was from a teacher. In some US districts, schools have had to remotely teach all of their classes because many teachers have been exposed to the virus.
Other research has hinted that there is less virus transmission in schools and that they should reopen for face-to-face classes, a message that the administration of US President Joe Biden has been pushing in recent weeks. Like most school districts in Georgia, Marietta, which has 8,700 students, has been teaching face-to-face since the fall. Superintendent Grant Rivera said more than 90% of elementary students returned to classrooms.
All of Marietta’s shoots involved “less than ideal physical distancing,” due to the students being less than 3 feet apart, although there were plastic gaps on the desks.
“Physical distancing greater than 6 feet was not possible due to the high number of students and the layout of the classrooms,” the authors wrote.