German study finds low Covid-19 infection rate in schools

Very few of 2,000 schoolchildren and teachers tested in the German state of Saxony showed antibodies to Covid-19, a study has found, suggesting schools may not play as big a role in spreading the virus as some had feared.

Germany began reopening schools in May, though debate continues as to the role children may play in spreading the virus to vulnerable adults at home as well as to older teachers and school staff.

The study by the University hospital in Dresden analysed blood samples from almost 1,500 children aged between 14 and 18 and 500 teachers from 13 schools in Dresden and the districts of Bautzen and Görlitz in May and June.

The largest study conducted in Germany on schoolchildren and teachers included testing in schools where there were coronavirus outbreaks.

Of the almost 2,000 samples, only 12 had antibodies, said Reinhard Berner , a professor of paediatrics at the hospital, adding that the first results gave no evidence that schoolchildren played a role in spreading the virus particularly quickly.

“Children may even act as a brake on infection,” Berner told a news conference, saying infections in schools had not led to an outbreak, while the spread of the virus within households was also less dynamic than previously thought.

Saxony’s education minister, Christian Piwarz, said the study showed schools in the state could reopen as normal after the summer holiday at the end of August – but with some conditions, such as mask wearing and social distancing where possible.

Berner said the study was representative for the state of Saxony, which has a relatively low rate of infection compared with other parts of Germany.

For other states with low infection rates, the study suggests schools could be reopened without causing widespread outbreaks of the virus, he said.

A separate study of blood donors found antibodies against Covid-19 in only 1.3% of 12,000 samples, the president of the Robert Koch Institute for public health, Prof Lothar Wieler, said.


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