This is a summary, written by members of the CITF Secretariat, of:

Coleman, B.L., Fischer, K., Maunder, R. et al. Study of the epidemiology of COVID-19 in Ontario elementary and secondary school education workers: an interim analysis following the first school yearCan J Public Health (2022).

The results and/or conclusions contained in the research do not necessarily reflect the views of all CITF members.

Early in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, virus transmission and the risk of infection among education workers was unclear. Upon studying this population in Ontario, CITF-funded researchers Drs. Brenda Coleman, Sharon Straus and Allison McGeer, from the University of Toronto, revealed that the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission was significantly higher between people living in the same household than between people in work or other social situations. They emphasize that practicing protective measures when a household member has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 home would help reduce the risk of infection. Their results were recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Key Points

  • 677 (23.9%) of the 2834 participants reported being exposed to someone who had COVID-19. Of these individuals, 26% tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, while 12.7% were not tested.
  • Risk factors for infection included exposure to a SARS-CoV-2-infected adult in the household or a student at school, or travel outside the province within 14 days of testing.

The 3.6% cumulative incidence of infection in this cohort is similar to the 3.7% cumulative rate for Ontario residents of all ages in the same time period, and the 4% seroprevalence reported among blood donors by Canadian Blood Services in May 2021. The findings are similar to those from another CITF-funded study suggesting the seroprevalence rate in education workers in schools was reflective of the general seroprevalence in the community.

In order to better understand risk factors and behaviours, participants were sent online surveys and followed up regularly between March 2020 and July 2021. Participants also submitted self-collected dried blood spots to identify past antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The majority of the participants (85%) were female and employed as teaching staff (81%). 86% reported having received at least one dose of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.