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SARS-CoV-2 infection in schools in a northern French city: a retrospective serological cohort study in an area of high transmission, France, January to April 2020

Arnaud Fontanet 1, 2, 3, * Laura Tondeur 1 Rebecca Grant 1 Sarah Temmam 4 Yoann Madec 1 Thomas Bigot 5 Ludivine Grzelak 6, 7 Isabelle Cailleau 8 Camille Besombes 1 Marie-Noëlle Ungeheuer 9 Charlotte Renaudat 9 Blanca Liliana Perlaza 9 Laurence Arowas 9 Nathalie Jolly 10 Sandrine Fernandes Pellerin 10 Lucie Kuhmel 11 Isabelle Staropoli 6, 12 Christèle Huon 4 Kuang-Yu Chen 13 Bernadette Crescenzo-Chaigne 14 Sandie Munier 14 Pierre Charneau 15, 16 Caroline Demeret 14 Timothée Bruel 6, 12 Marc Eloit 4, 17 Olivier Schwartz 6, 12 Bruno Hoen 1, 8
Abstract : Background Children’s role in SARS-CoV-2 epidemiology remains unclear. We investigated an initially unnoticed SARS-CoV-2 outbreak linked to schools in northern France, beginning as early as mid-January 2020. Aims This retrospective observational study documents the extent of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, linked to an affected high school (n = 664 participants) and primary schools (n = 1,340 study participants), in the context of unsuspected SARS-CoV-2 circulation and limited control measures. Methods Between 30 March and 30 April 2020, all school staff, as well as pupils and their parents and relatives were invited for SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing and to complete a questionnaire covering symptom history since 13 January 2020. Results In the high school, infection attack rates were 38.1% (91/239), 43.4% (23/53), and 59.3% (16/27), in pupils, teachers, and non-teaching staff respectively vs 10.1% (23/228) and 12.0% (14/117) in the pupils’ parents and relatives (p < 0.001). Among the six primary schools, three children attending separate schools at the outbreak start, while symptomatic, might have introduced SARS-CoV-2 there, but symptomatic secondary cases related to them could not be definitely identified. In the primary schools overall, antibody prevalence in pupils sharing classes with symptomatic cases was higher than in pupils from other classes: 15/65 (23.1%) vs 30/445 (6.7%) (p < 0.001). Among 46 SARS-CoV-2 seropositive pupils < 12 years old, 20 were asymptomatic. Whether past HKU1 and OC43 seasonal coronavirus infection protected against SARS-CoV-2 infection in 6–11 year olds could not be inferred. Conclusions Viral circulation can occur in high and primary schools so keeping them open requires consideration of appropriate control measures and enhanced surveillance.
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Arnaud Fontanet, Laura Tondeur, Rebecca Grant, Sarah Temmam, Yoann Madec, et al.. SARS-CoV-2 infection in schools in a northern French city: a retrospective serological cohort study in an area of high transmission, France, January to April 2020. Eurosurveillance, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 2021, 26 (15), pp.2001695. ⟨10.2807/1560-7917.es.2021.26.15.2001695⟩. ⟨pasteur-03236257⟩

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