Covid-19: No transmission linked to children travelling to school on packed buses, study claims

School buses pose little threat of spreading Covid even if they are completely full and the virus is surging, research suggested today.

Experts tracked coronavirus’s spread through a school of more than 1,000 students in Virginia.

They spotted dozens of cases but concluded there was ‘no transmission linked to bus transportation’.  

This was despite the study being carried out between August 2020 and March this year, which covered some of the darkest days of the state’s outbreak.

Researchers claimed the findings show ‘school buses can safely operate at normal capacity even at high community Covid case loads’.

Every student was asked to wear a face mask when on the bus and windows were kept open to allow ventilation.

Similar coronavirus-protecting guidance for children travelling to school is currently in place in England. 

Guidance issued by the Department of Education on Monday states children aged 11 or older are encouraged to wear a face mask, but social distancing is no longer required on buses or other public transport to school.

Research at a school of 1,154 students in Virginia from August 2020 to March this year showed there was ‘no [Covid] transmission linked to bus transportation’ [stock photo]

Students were packed on to 15 buses — meaning two students per bench with social distancing of 2.5ft. Pictured: A typical bus layout during the study

Students were packed on to 15 buses — meaning two students per bench with social distancing of 2.5ft. Pictured: A typical bus layout during the study

The US observational study made use of the school’s regular testing to monitor how much Covid spread on school buses.

It’s unclear if the children were of primary or secondary age, which may have influenced their chance of infection. 

The students were given PCR tests every two weeks at first and weekly during the periods of highest transmission.

Almost 85% of secondary schools in England had NO covid cases after they opened, official data suggests 

Almost nine in 10 secondary schools in England had no coronavirus cases after they reopened, official figures suggest.

Surveillance data showed only nine of 80 schools surveyed had spotted one infected pupil or staff member in the fortnight ending March 31. 

Four saw at least two cases, according to the Office for National Statistics report. 

Almost 10,000 secondary teachers and pupils were swabbed for the study, which is carried out regularly to track the spread of the disease in schools. 

Just 0.34 per cent of pupils tested positive — compared to 1.2 per cent in December, when Covid was spreading rapidly in the community. Only one in every 500 teachers were infected in the last round of testing, down from one in 60 before Christmas.

Public Health England bosses said the data was ‘reassuring’. 

Dr Shamez Ladhani, a PHE epidemiologist and the study’s chief investigator, said: ‘Results of this study shows current Covid infection among secondary school staff and pupils has fallen significantly from the already low levels recorded last November.

‘These findings are reassuring and contribute to wider evidence that shows the risk of transmission in schools is low.

‘This also indicates the importance of public health measures in schools for reducing transmission.’

They were packed onto 15 buses — meaning two students per bench with social distancing of 2.5ft (about 0.7 metres apart). 

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), which advises the US Government on Covid policy, currently recommends all passengers on public transport maintain a 6ft distance (around 2m).

Ten of the 15 buses were completely full and required students to be seated in almost every seat. 

Simple ventilation techniques, including opening windows, and face mask-wearing were put in place on the 36 to 74 minute bus journeys.

Two windows in the middle and two at the back were opened one inch (2.5cm), with any extra openings left to the driver to decide. 

There were 39 Covid cases — including two member of staff — on the buses over the seven-month period, resulting in 52 students being forced to quarantine.

But testing and contact tracing showed the infections were not linked to transmission on buses. 

Close contacts were defined as someone sat within 6ft of a student who tested positive for more than 15 minutes on the bus.

Even during peaks of the virus in Virginia, where cases reached 525.7 per 100,000, not a single case was transmitted on the school bus, the experts said.

Researchers said the study shows schools can operate buses safely at full capacity, without the need for extra spacing between students — despite the study only looking at one school.

Dr Dana Ramirez, an expert in emergency medicine Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Virginia, said: ‘The pandemic has made it very difficult for public schools to meet the transportation needs of students. 

‘Many districts simply do not have enough buses and drivers to allow distancing of 3ft to 6ft or skipping of bus rows while still providing rides to all children.

‘With more students returning to face-to-face instruction, safe transportation to school is an equity issue, as many families are unable to drive their children to school each day. 

‘As members of the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics School Re-Opening Task Force, we recognise that schools are under pressure to make data-driven operational decisions. 

‘We hope the model we describe and our data can be of assistance in demonstrating that school buses can safely operate at normal capacity even at high community Covid case loads.’ 

The study backs up previous research showing the chance of the virus spreading on public transport is minimal if masks are worn and social distancing is adhered to. 

Contact tracing studies looking into hundreds of Covid clusters in France, Austria and Japan last year linked fewer than one per cent of ‘super-spreader’ events back to public transport.

The likelihood of catching the virus was found to be far higher when working in an office, eating at a restaurant or drinking in a bar.

Scientists say people tend to stay on trains or buses for relatively short periods of time and often do not talk to anyone, reducing the amount of aerosols they dispel.