Back to School: Teachers Not at Higher COVID-19 Hospitalisation Risk 

Nicky Broyd

September 02, 2021

Teachers do not have a greater risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation compared with the rest of the working-age population, according to an observational study published in The BMJ.

Researchers from Public Health Scotland and the University of Glasgow analysed data from Scottish schools from March 2020 to July 2021.

There were concerns that teachers could be adversely affected by pupils spreading SARS-CoV-2, and the JCVI is still considering whether to advise vaccinating all 12 to 15-year-olds.

However, after adjusting for risk factors, during school closures last winter and spring/summer 2020, teachers and members of their households had around a 50% lower risk of hospital admission than the wider population.

When schools reopened, teachers' hospitalisation risk increased to levels similar to the general population.

Why Isn't the Risk Higher?

The authors weren't able to say for certain why teachers were not at a higher risk.

This group tended to be healthy, younger women at lower general risk, and it’s also possible they may have been more careful about COVID precautions. Most of the study period was before the Delta variant became prevalent, although in the latter period covered by the study, the delta variant was already circulating in the population and vaccine uptake was high among teachers.

Lead author, David McAllister, professor of clinical epidemiology and medical informatics, University of Glasgow, said: "It is not possible from our study to say why when schools were mostly closed teachers had a lower risk of hospitalisation with COVID-19. It could be something particular about teachers themselves, or it could simply be that they had fewer contacts, on average, than other working-age adults at this time."

The authors concluded: "Compared with healthcare workers and with other adults of working age who are otherwise similar, teachers showed no increased risk of hospital admission with COVID-19 or severe COVID-19.

"These findings should reassure most adults engaged in in-person teaching."

Reassurance 'Falls Short' 

"This is a robust study including over 130,000 teachers and 1.3 million controls in Scotland from March 2020 through July 2021," commented Dr Jeremy Rossman, senior lecturer in virology, University of Kent, via the Science Media Centre.

"This low rate of severe COVID in teachers is indeed good news but falls short of reassuring that teachers are not at risk of COVID disease when schools are open. 

"The study found that teachers were at an increased risk of COVID infections [not hospitalisations] compared to the general population (though the study was not designed to look at this outcome and so the results may be subject to confounding factors). 

"The study also does not look at the incidence of long COVID in teachers during this period and it is important to remember that hospitalisations and severe COVID are not the only adverse impacts to health from a COVID-19 infection. 

"Even though teachers in Scotland are not at increased risk of severe COVID, they are still at risk of catching COVID and developing long COVID, as such there is a continued need for COVID precautions in schools to protect the health of both teachers and students."

BMJ 2021; 374 doi: published 2 September 2021.


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