Daily COVID-19 testing in schools is vital to save children’s education

Daily COVID-19 testing in schools will keep children in full-time education, stop mass COVID-19 spread, and help keep the economy afloat, according to Professor Abderrahim Taamouti, an Economist at Durham University Business School.

Professor Taamouti previously developed an epidemic model to study the trade-off between Covid-19 control, lockdown and testing. The model shows that mass testing is the safest and cheapest way to reopen the economy and society. Professor Taamouti’s model suggests we would need to test 4-7% of the UK population each day to effectively control Covid-19 infection rates, without needing to enforce another lockdown again. 

This testing policy also applies to the education sector, to ensure children’s education is not a stop-start process. The education sector is a critical one in terms of covid-spread, given the difficulties in enforcing social distancing, and the sheer volume of children and teachers from numerous households all interacting indoors.

Current measures in school’s for preventing COVID-19 include encouraging all to wash their hands, creating bubbles within the school years, wearing masks between classrooms and socially distanced seating. However, there are currently no mandatory testing procedures in place for teachers or pupils.

If anyone within school bubbles displays symptoms, all members are currently required to be tested or isolate, meaning children and teachers face missing out on vital education and classroom time over the next academic year. The Children’s Commissioner has suggested around one in 20 children in England are currently out of school due to issues linked to the pandemic and lockdown. 

Professor Taamouti says,

“Schools cannot be left to their own fate. They must be equipped with testing to help them properly fight the spread of the virus and avoid the outbreaks that can lead to their closure. Daily testing for teachers and pupils could help run schools smoothly and reduce the anxiety of parents, ensuring children have no unnecessary breaks in their education, and can continue to learn without disruption”.

Professor Taamouti says governments should provide schools with enough tests, which ideally return results in a short time-frame, to be used at any time when needed. By employing his mass, daily testing strategy in all schools children will only have to self-isolate if they test positive themselves and not if someone in their bubble does, meaning the number of children missing school will drastically reduce. In turn, the knock-on effect on the economy and public health will also decrease.

Professor Taamouti says,

“Taking children out of schools forces parents to stay at home to look after them. Some parents might manage to work from home, but many will not due to the nature of their work. That is why it is so important that we are able to keep schools open, not only because children need their education, but also because of the knock-on effect closures would have.”

With the winter, and flu season, ahead many parents may mistakenly stop children from going into school by confusing suspected covid-19 symptoms with the flu. Whilst, alternatively, other children with covid-19 may be sent to school as parents assume a flu diagnosis. Professor Taamouti’s strategy would help to identify both the false alarms and the more worrying asymptomatic cases that can cause further outbreaks and subsequent school closures.