A new study will examine the relationship between the built environment, community spread, and the likelihood of transmission of COVID-19 within school settings
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Institute scientists and clinicians received numerous requests for information about the safety of the school environment for children and mitigation strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in school buildings. In New York City and elsewhere, schools implemented a range of public health measures including school closures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
While the direct risk of COVID-19 infection in children is lower relative to the adult population, the indirect harms of the pandemic are substantial. In particular, school closures can have immediate and long-lasting impacts on child development. In New York City (NYC), the calculated magnitude of student-level learning losses due to COVID-19 and the transition away from classroom-based instruction was on average 125 (69%) and 212 (118%) days of reading and math, respectively, relative to a typical 180-day school year. Opening schools to in-person learning is important for child learning and well-being; however, it comes with the risk of increasing COVID-19 transmission.
To explore the potential for increased transmission due to in-person schooling, and the impact of mitigation strategies, Center scientist Nicholas DeFelice, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, was awarded a pilot grant from the Mount Sinai Transdisciplinary Center for Early Environmental Exposures (TCEEE) in partnership with NYC charter school program Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a network of free open-enrollment college-preparatory schools in low-income communities throughout the United States. Using data on school-level ventilation and additional mitigation strategies from KIPP NYC and the NYC Department of Education, Dr. DeFelice is employing statistical models to better understand the relationship between the built environment, community spread, and the likelihood of transmission within school settings.
Working with Community Engagement Core director Maida Galvez, MD, MPH, Dr. DeFelice is incorporating Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) methods, convening diverse partners for ongoing feedback, and assessing parent support of school-level mitigation strategies and whether this differs by certain demographic factors. The work will inform future research with the aim of identifying cost-effective, optimal environmental strategies to minimize COVID-19 transmission due to in-person schooling, and recommend robust, effective interventions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases. Co-Investigators on this project include Laura McGuinn, PhD; Rachel Vreeman, MD, MS; Alison Lee, MD, MS, Chris Gennings, PhD, Nicole Bouvier, MD; and Efrain Guerrero.