McMaster University study supports keeping schools open during pandemic, makes national headlines

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New research provides evidence that COVID-19 school closures were in fact not necessary. Photo Credit: Facebook/McMaster University. 


McMaster University researchers made national news recently after they published a study which provides evidence that schools did not need to close in order to prevent significant COVID-19 transmission.

The extensive review was led by researcher Sarah Neil-Sztramko who is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster.

Seven other researchers co-authored the document.

The review was published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Journal and involved the screening of more than 34,000 references, including databases and websites.

The research began in May 2020 and was updated 18 times throughout the pandemic, with the final update made at the end of 2022.

Ontario schools were closed for at least 135 days (27 weeks) during the COVID-19 pandemic over three different school years.

The closure was the longest amongst Canadian provinces and is also believed to have been one of the longest pandemic-related school closures in the world.

This new research provides evidence that those closures were in fact not necessary.

Neil-Sztramko summarized the research findings: “We found that after initial shutdown where everything was locked down, schools did not appear to have much impact on community level transmission when infection prevention control measures were in place.”

“It is important to understand which measures mitigate transmission so that schools can remain open as much as possible, given the negative impacts that were found during COVID-19 when they were closed,” she continued.

The review itself notes that “school closures reduced opportunities for students to interact with their peers, which has been shown to have an adverse effect on their social and emotional development.”

“Additionally, the fear, stress, and isolation caused by the pandemic contributed to a substantial increase in loneliness, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.”

It also added: “Although the data consistently shows that children can both contract and transmit COVID-19, based on published reports to date, following reopening, the risk of widespread transmission from child to child and child to adult is low, particularly when infection prevention and control measures are in place and adhered to.”

Neil-Sztramko concluded: “If there were to be another wave where community transmission was increasing and straining the healthcare system, strategies such as masking, vaccination, and test-to-stay interventions are effective in fighting transmission, allowing schools to stay open.”


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