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Regular COVID-19 testing could help schools avoid outbreak: U of G researcher

'In a school of, say, 500 students and 25 students per class, then we can do very well,' said Dr. Monica Cojocaru
20160202 University of Guelph 02 KA
University of Guelph file photo. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

How many kids would you have to test per day to keep a school from potentially facing a COVID-19 outbreak?

That's the question a team of researchers from the University of Guelph and York University have endeavoured to answer and, they've found it's not that many.

"In a school of, say, 500 students and 25 students per class, then we can do very well," said Dr. Monica Cojocaru, co-author of the study and a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Guelph. "Specifically, we can test about one student a day."

The research really aimed to figure out not how many, but how few kids would have to be tested on a daily basis to keep the ''effective reproductive number'', or how many kids one sick kid would transmit the virus to, at or below one.

"If we employ repeated testing over however long we need to keep things under control in schools then we should be able to keep an eye and a lid on infected numbers and potential outbreaks," said Dr. Cojocaru.

Based on the scenario above, Dr. Cojocaru says a school with 500 students and 25 students per class would be looking at testing about 20 students each day for a total of about 600 a month, a small price to pay to potentially stave off a future outbreak.

The research also suggests the goal isn't to single out the kids with the sniffles either, but to cycle through each class repeatedly.

"Repeated testing, in other words using testing as a preventative tool rather than a reactive tool allows us to find two things," said Dr. Cojocaru. "It allows us to find asymptomatic carriers and, perhaps even more importantly, pre-symptomatic carriers."

"And so this would essentially allow schools to always have a check and have low number of infected, of course assuming that the community level of transmission is not very high." 

Dr. Cojocaru says repeated testing essentially could be an extra tool in the box, so to speak, for schools to prevent potential outbreak.

The research, which was funded in part with a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada is published in the journal BMI Public Health.

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