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Montreal study claims schools major vector for COVID-19 transmission

Click to play video: 'New Montreal study claims schools major Covid-19 vector' New Montreal study claims schools major Covid-19 vector
WATCH: With elementary schools students returning to class for the first time since the holidays and rising COVID-19 infections, there are growing fears about the spread of the virus in schools. As Global’s Phil Carpenter reports, a recent study makes the case for keeping kids at home – Jan 11, 2021

A new study in Montreal by a team of researchers is making the case for keeping kids at home.

Two scholars at the Université de Montréal, a researcher at Covid Écoles Quebec and one person from George Washington University in the United States, who conducted the study in Montreal between August and December in 2020, claim that schools are a strong vector of transmission of the coronavirus in the community.

“You really see that the incidents in the kids precedes in time the raise of new cases in the adults by a few weeks,” explains Simona Bignami, a professor at Université de Montréal and one of the co-authors.

Read more: Quebec Liberal leader calls for massive coronavirus testing strategy as schools re-open

She said they looked at the distribution of COVID-19 cases by neighbourhood in the city in reports published by Montreal health authorities.  According to her, they examined the number of new cases per capita among kids aged 0-9 and 10-18 years old, compared with cases among adults aged 30 to 49, the age of most parents according to the researchers.  This is what they found.

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“The fastest increase in the cases in the adults following a large increase in the kids,” explained Bignami.  “These are the neighbourhoods where have been more schools reporting cases and more cases in the schools.”

Those areas are among the worst affected by the virus in the city, according to researchers and include places in the north and east of the island.  The scholars believe these transmissions are partly responsible for the large jump in coronavirus infections during the second wave.

“When you have a case in school, you may have one, two, three other cases at home that are not counted as school cases but of course they are counted as home cases,” said Oliver Drouin. He is one of the study’s co-authors and runs Covid Écoles Quebec, where infections in schools have been tracked since last year.

Drouin claimed the results don’t surprise him. Both he and Bignam stress that more needs to be done to curb the spread in schools in order to slow community transmission.

“I really believe think that right now limiting in-person schooling as much as possible would actually be the right solution,” Bignami insisted.

Read more: Quebec elementary schools to reopen Monday; unions and experts fear it could be costly

Drouin argued that if kids are in school,  “we need to improve our testing and tracing strategy and asymptomatic testing.”

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During a press conference Monday, Premier François Legault reiterated his position that sending kids to school is a calculated risk.

“I understand there’s a risk bringing back in the schools,” said Legault, “but we have to put into balance that there are other disadvantages to keeping them at home.”

He insisted that his government wants children to go to school but to stay away from senior citizens who can get the virus from asymptomatic youth.

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