One academic says increasing the length of school days and adding more breaks throughout them could help reduce the spread of Covid-19 in classrooms.
New research reveals the virus’ spread in crowded spaces can be reduced simply by allowing groups to take frequent breaks, among other strategies like ventilating rooms and wearing masks.
The study, led by Princeton University’s Avinash Dixit and published in PNAS today, has been well-received by New Zealand epidemiologists, who said it could be helpful in slowing the spread of other winter diseases.
Massey University’s Dr Mikael Boulic said the findings confirmed the Ministry of Education had been giving the right advice to schools - to take breaks and allow fresh air in - since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Boulic said the study’s results raised questions about whether the ministry should make the school day longer and extend those breaks to further reduce the virus’ spread.
“Extend time at school from 9am to 3pm to 9am to 4pm,” Boulic said, “to allow an increase of the number of breaks and the break length between lessons (to allow proper refresh of classrooms).”
Dixit and colleagues Baltazar Espinoza, Zriou Qiu and Madhav Marathe looked at the differences between groups where people wore masks, took frequent breaks during meetings, tested for coronavirus beforehand and kept spaces well-ventilated.
Further, the study found “inter-meeting break times dramatically reduce the room’s viral load, potentially equalizing masks and testing effects”.
The study’s authors looked at three case studies: students meeting in a classroom, elderly people in a rest home and a super-spreader choir meeting.
The University of Auckland’s Dr Siouxsie Wiles said the study showed breaks of 10-15 minutes worked just as well at reducing transmission as when half of a crowd wore masks.
“This will be because taking breaks allows any contaminated air in the room to clear before [group] participants return,” Wiles said.
“With winter approaching and very few people wearing masks anymore, this study highlights how improving ventilation can prevent infections from airborne viruses and bacteria,” she said.
The University of Otago’s Dr Amanda Kvalsvig said the approach taken in the study was applicable to New Zealand.
“For example, a bus journey ... can be modelled as a type of ‘meeting’ where the duration and group size can’t be easily changed,” she said.
“Strategies that effectively reduce Covid-19 transmission in public settings are likely to be even more effective in protecting people from a range of other infections. A systematic approach to safe indoor environments would be a win-win-win situation for population health.”