COVID-19 Mapping and Mitigation in Schools (CoMMinS)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Bristol Medical School

Abstract

This project will create new knowledge and tools to help schools deal with the practical challenges of preventing and coping with an outbreak of COVID-19.

The project will test for infection in the school environment and test whether staff and pupils have current or past COVID-19 infection, over a 6-month period. We will test 4000 pupils and 100 staff members monthly. Any positive case identified as part of this study or reported within the city during the study period will be followed up to establish whether the household concerned is connected to a school (via a pupil or member of school staff). If so, we will test the members of the household weekly for 4 weeks to improve our understanding of infection transmission in this setting. We will use staff and pupil postcodes to identify the areas of the city with most infection, so that they can be given targeted support for infection control. We will improve systems for rapid and effective contact tracing, using digital support. We will work with staff, pupils and parents to adapt and use the 'Germ Defence' app to help everyone improve their infection control at school and outside school. Finally, we will assess the impact of returning to school on pupil and staff mental wellbeing, and their attitudes to this project. We will explore what schools are doing to support pupils experiencing difficulties, and assess which activities are most helpful.

Our project builds on our team's wide range of very relevant research expertise and a well-established, strong partnership between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council, Public Health England, local schools and other city stakeholders.

Technical Summary

This proposal will meet the urgent need for mapping and mitigation of COVID-19 in schools in light of their planned full re-opening in September 2020. Schools pose a major challenge due to features of their operation including the likelihood of cases being asymptomatic, the high number of contacts, the presence of vulnerable persons, and the potential for rapid onward transmission to family contacts of children and staff.

These challenges must be weighed against the benefits to children including resuming their education, peer interaction and social development. A deeper understanding of infection history and dynamics and enhanced mitigation measures will have widespread benefit for outbreak control and future pandemic resilience.

We will undertake a large-scale mapping study of prior and current COVID-19 infection in pupils and staff, including prospective testing over a 6-month period. This will dramatically enhance our understanding of infection patterns in this age group. Results will be mapped to home postcode location and linked to NHS system-wide data to highlight area-based and individual-level risk factors. We will also undertake weekly reactive testing in households with a confirmed, school-linked COVID-19 infection.

To mitigate against infection transmission we will adapt evidence-based digital tools and co-create whole school implementation interventions to support positive infection control practices by staff, parents and pupils. We will co-design and develop a system to collate multiple sources of information to augment contact tracing and facilitate outbreak control. We will explore the impact of returning to school for staff and pupils' mental wellbeing, their attitudes towards actions taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and potential interventions to address identified difficulties.

Publications

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