Teachers’ coronavirus infection rates ‘increase during lockdown’

People who worked in education had a 43% increased risk of infection compared to those who do not work in this sector a study found.

Royal High School
Royal High School

Teachers have had a “little bit higher risk” of infection with coronavirus during the national lockdown, new figures suggest.

People who work in education and childcare appear to have had increased risk of infection compared to people who do not work in these professions, experts said.

Scientists have previously said that jobs which are “open” are likely to carry higher rates of infection during this period when other workers have been instructed to stay at home.

In January, people who worked in education – including schools, nurseries or childcare – had 20% higher odds of infection compared to those who do not work in these professions.

In February, this rose to 43%, according to data from Imperial College London’s React study which has been analysing data from swab tests taken from people across England since May last year.

To date more than 1.4 million people have provided swabs so experts can assess infection rates across the country.

The latest round of tests were conducted in February – the second month of the national lockdown – with 165,000 people taking part.

The figures show that people working in healthcare and care homes also have a higher risk of infection.

And people who work in public transport are twice as likely as people who do not work in this sector to become infected with the virus, the figures suggest.

Key workers overall had a 19% increased risk in February.

People who work from home had a decreased risk.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React programme, and chairman of epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial College London, said: “Teachers are at a bit of excess risk – it’s not just teachers, it’s people working in education, childcare, nursery.

“They’re at a little bit higher risk of infection than people who don’t work in that group of jobs in our data.

“Those who are not mandated to work outside of the home do have a lower risk.

“So that stresses the importance of the work from home where possible.”

Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine and child health at the University of Liverpool, told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday: “When you do shut down society, or lock down many different aspects of society, but only keep the schools open then you will see more transmission in schools compared to everywhere else because it’s the schools that are working.

“So if all you’ve got open are your hospitals, and your schools, then you will see transmission in your schools because there’s nowhere else for transmission to occur.

“If the only jobs that are open, are the hospitals, and the schools, then yes, teachers will be getting it more than people who are locked down and staying at home.

“But when you open up society and compare and more like for like activities, the highest risks actually turned out to be people like the taxi drivers and people in some retail environments.

“School teachers are not mainly catching it from the children – when we did deep dives into schools, school teachers were catching it from each other in the common room.”

On Tuesday, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested that school staff are not at a higher risk of Covid-19 infection than other working-age adults in their local communities.

Around 14.99% of school staff tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in December, which indicate a past infection, lower than the estimate of 18.22% for working-age adults, according to a small study of schools.

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