Lifting school closures is one of the first releases considered in ‘exit-strategies’, given the disruptive effects for society. Yet, the role of schools in SARS-CoV-2 transmission remains largely undetermined. Several conditions in particular in secondary schools could favour transmission; Pre- or asymptomatic adolescents may go unnoticed and spread virus via direct or indirect contact (via surfaces), or by exhaled small airborne droplets (‘aerosols’) in crowded school settings. Of note, airborne transmission is strongly influenced by indoor air quality and ventilation, which are suboptimal in many school buildings.
This project aims to quantify SARS-CoV-2 transmission by various routes within secondary schools and relate transmission rates to indoor environmental conditions and crowding. This project will also investigate the potential for SARS-CoV-2 airborne transmission more specifically
This project combines environmental and virological studies in experimental as well as real-life school settings, studying 1) aerosol concentration, distribution and persistence under various experimental indoor environmental conditions and the biological properties of SARS-CoV-2-containing aerosols; 2) SARS-CoV-2 contamination and transmission along with environmental conditions in schools, supplemented with at least 5 detailed outbreak investigations in school infection clusters including an assessment of prevailing indoor environmental conditions and air circulation patterns, along with extensive environmental air and surface sampling. The outbreak studies will be embedded in a preparedness platform designed for a rapid research response.
Results will help define the importance of secondary schools in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, quantify the importance of airborne and indirect transmission and the influence of indoor environmental conditions, and provide a road-map to healthy school environments that maximize control of SARS-CoV-2, as well as other respiratory pathogens.