School closures to prevent transmission of COVID-19 (multiple reviews)

Added August 20, 2020

What is this? Efforts to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 have included the closure of schools. Research on the impact of school closures, including research during other pandemics caused by respiratory viruses, might provide useful information for policymakers. Several systematic reviews have been reported and more details of these, including citations and links to the full text, are available lower down this summary.

What was found: At the time of their rapid review, Viner et al. (2020) reported that school closures alone might prevent 2-4% of deaths, which was less than other social distancing methods. They concluded that, based on the available studies, the overall effects of school closures on COVID-19 transmission are uncertain.

Bin Nafisah et al. (2018) reported that implementing school closure before or after an influenza epidemic reaches its peak reduced the overall epidemic. Early and prolonged school closures had more impact on epidemic peaks.

Jackson et al. (2013) reported that school closure reduced transmission of seasonal and pandemic influenza among school children in some studies and that some studies found that influenza incidence increased when schools reopened.

The reviews noted uncertainties around the optimum timing and duration of school closures; and suggest that a multi-faceted approach to reducing transmission in schools (with additional interventions to school closures) may be most effective.

What are the reviews:

Citation: Viner RM, Russell SJ, Croker H, et al. School closure and management practices during coronavirus outbreaks including COVID-19: a rapid systematic review. Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. 2020;4(5):397-404.

In this rapid review, the authors searched for studies of the effects of school closure and other school-based social distancing practices on infection rates and transmission during coronavirus outbreaks. They did not restrict their searches by date or language of publication and did their most recent search on 19 March 2020. They included 16 studies. All the published articles concerned the 2003 SARS outbreak, one preprint assessed the effect of school closures on transmission of other (endemic) coronaviruses, and five preprints and one report concerned the COVID-19 pandemic.

Citation: Bin Nafisah S, Alamery AH, Al Nafesa A, et al. School closure during novel influenza: a systematic review. Journal of Infection and Public Health. 2018;11(5):657-61.

In this systematic review the authors searched for articles quantifying the effects of school closures during influenza epidemics. They restricted their searches to studies available in English and did the search in March 2017. They identified 31 studies that had used either mathematical models or data from within an established epidemic.

Citation: Jackson C, Vynnycky E, Hawker J, Olowokure B, Mangtani P. School closures and influenza: systematic review of epidemiological studies. BMJ Open 2013;3(2):e002149

In this systematic review, the authors searched for epidemiological research into the effects of school closures on transmission and incidence of influenza. They restricted their searches to articles published in English and did their search in January 2012. They included 22 studies of seasonal influenza and 57 studies of pandemic influenza.


Disclaimer: This summary has been written by staff and volunteers of Evidence Aid in order to make the content of the original document accessible to decision makers who are searching for the available evidence on the coronavirus (COVID-19) but may not have the time, initially, to read the original report in full. This summary is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians, other health workers, professional associations, guideline developers, or national governments and international agencies. If readers of this summary think that the evidence that is presented within it is relevant to their decision-making they should refer to the content and details of the original article, and the advice and guidelines offered by other sources of expertise, before making decisions. Evidence Aid cannot be held responsible for any decisions made about the coronavirus (COVID-19) on the basis of this summary alone.