LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – A study done by UNMC and Omaha Public Schools found COVID-19 was more prevalent in schools than previously thought.
The program, OPS PROTECTS, studied three OPS schools in November and December of 2020. All of the schools’ teachers and 12% of the students were tested for COVID-19 weekly. They found infection rates were two and a half times higher for staff and nearly six times higher for students than previously thought. It also found nearly 10 times the cases per population that what was found in community testing in the county.
“This data shows the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in school-aged children is being dramatically underestimated,” said Jana Broadhurst, MD, PhD, corresponding author on the study. “We were able to identify and remove staff and students from the school environment who wouldn’t have otherwise been identified.”
The study also tested environmental air, surface, and wastewater for COVID-19. Researchers said they consistently found COVID-19 in the wastewater and found positive air and surface samples in two rooms.
“We believe this project represents a feasible, scalable, and novel approach to screening and monitoring in a school setting,” said Dr. Broadhurst. “Our results show as many as nine in 10 student COVID-19 cases and seven in 10 staff cases might be missed by conventional reporting. Doing this kind of testing can help lessen transmission in schools because of the ability to better isolate, trace and manage school activities.”
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