COVID-19 transmission in Marin County dropped as schools reopened, study shows

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) -- It's been a question throughout the pandemic: How safe is in-person learning?

A new study from Dominican University in San Rafael, California shows it could be safer than some thought.

According to the research, which was published in the peer-reviewed national medical journal Cureus, when students in Marin County returned to the classroom last year, COVID-19 transmission in the community didn't go up. It went down.

"We were able to show that students could be safe, faculty could be safe on campus, when working together collaboratively with the public health officials," Dr. Michaela George, an assistant professor at Dominican University and co-author of the study, told ABC7 News.

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George said from September to January of last year, the researchers tracked attendance at 77 Marin schools, both private and public schools from TK to 8th grade.

"What we saw was as the student days increased, community spread -- so the spread of COVID in the community -- actually decreased," George explained. "And as student days then decrease near the holidays and winter break, we see a huge spike in community spread."

"Again not causal, but it was interesting to show that there may be a correlation between those two," she added.

The researchers said most transmissions did not happen during school, rather at after school gatherings and holiday vacations when there's more mingling of families.

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Marin County Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Lisa Santora also helped author the study. She said she hopes their findings will help guide public health officials in the future.

"Our hope is that when we do experience another pandemic, that we do not have the long, protracted delays of the return to in-person instruction," Santora said. "It adversely affected so many families and so many children to be out of school for so long."

In the short term, the researchers say their findings can provide comfort to parents that with safety protocols -- masking, social distancing and good hygiene -- in-person learning can be safe.

"I can tell you that my children are very comfortable wearing masks, and it's a very safe environment for them to be in," George said.

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