Quique Bassat

Institut de Salut Global Barcelona

In this article, we analyzed contagions of coronavirus disease 2019 inside school bubble groups in Catalonia, Spain, in the presence of strong nonpharmaceutical interventions from September to December 2020. More than 1 million students were organized in bubble groups and monitored and analyzed by the Health and the Educational departments. We had access to 2 data sources, and both were employed for the analysis, one is the Catalan school surveillance system and the other of the educational department. As soon as a positive index case is detected by the health system, isolation is required for all members of the bubble group, in addition to a mandatory proactive systematic screening of each individual. All infected cases are reported. It permits the calculation of the average reproductive number (R*), corresponding to the average number of infected individuals per index case. We found that propagation inside of the bubble group was small. Among 75% index cases, there was no transmission to other members in the classroom, with an average R* across all ages inside the bubble of R* = 0.4. We found a significant age trend in the secondary attack rates, with the R* going from 0.2 in preschool to 0.6 in high school youth. We concluded that he secondary attack rate depends on the school level and therefore on the age. Super-spreading events (outbreaks of 5 cases or more) in childhood were rare, only occurring in 2.5% of all infections triggered from a pediatric index case.

This work, together with other research conducted in children from Catalonia (KIDS-Corona project), had important implications in the recommendations that we were able to make to the Ministeries of Education and Health for a safe return to school by Spanish children.

Indeed, Spain reopened their schools in September 2020, and has never closed them subsequently, something that not many other countries have been able to do. Transmission within schools has been kept to a minimum, and much of the merit was made on the design -evidence-based- of preventive recommendations tailored to children.