The study will take samples from about 2,900 teachers and staff to test for COVID-19 antibodies.

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Safety in schools during COVID-19 is a top concern for parents and teachers, and now researchers hope a new study looking into COVID-19 transmission in Vancouver schools could provide some peace of mind.

Scientific literature suggests schools are safe settings, depending on the level of community transmission, said lead investigator Dr. Pascal Lavoie.

But given the uncertainty wrought by the virus and regular alerts from health authorities about exposures in schools, Lavoie said he understands why parents and staff remain worried.

“The goal (of the study) is to understand to what extent classroom educators are exposed to COVID-19 in the school setting,” he said. “I would hope that it would reassure parents that our schools are safe.”

The study — a joint undertaking by B.C Children’s Hospital, the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health — will check blood samples of teachers and staff working for the Vancouver school district for antibodies to see if they have acquired SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It will take samples from 2,400 teachers who have direct contact with students as well as samples from 500 school workers who do not directly interact with students for the control group. 

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The blood tests will test for COVID antibodies and measure a school worker’s cumulative exposure to the virus.

The study has enrolled more than 800 participants since it launched Feb. 10.

The study will also use data from public health, which will conduct more testing among students who may have been exposed to the virus.

“Right now asymptomatic students won’t get recommended to get tested (for COVID-19, not for antibodies),” explained Lavoie. “But during this study, they will test asymptomatic contact as well.”

He expects some of the participants might have been exposed to the virus, but were asymptomatic. “We are trying to measure the asymptomatic transmission that may be going on under the surface.”

The study’s plan was to conduct a second blood test at the end of the school year in June, but this is may change as more people get vaccinate, said Lavoie.

The study will also assess the impact of the pandemic on staff’s mental health and get a sense of their receptivity to vaccination. It is funded by the federal COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

Lavoie said he hopes results can inform public health and governments about measures to protect workers in the school system as well as how to prioritize vaccination. 

Staff who work for the Vancouver school district who are interested in participating can register here.


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