Background: Stringent public health measures have been shown to influence the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 within school environments. We investigated the potential transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in a primary school setting with and without public health measures, using fine-grained physical positioning traces captured before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Approximately 172.63 million position data from 98 students and six teachers from an open-plan primary school were used to predict a potential transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in primary school settings. We first estimated the daily average number of contacts of students and teachers with an infected individual during the incubation period. We then used the Reed-Frost model to estimate the probability of transmission per contact for the SARS-CoV-2 Alpha (B.1.1.7), Delta (B.1.617.2), and Omicron variant (B.1.1.529). Finally, we built a binomial distribution model to estimate the probability of onward transmission in schools with and without public health measures, including face masks and physical distancing.

Results: An infectious student would have 49.1 (95% confidence interval (CI) = 46.1-52.1) contacts with their peers and 2.00 (95% CI = 1.82-2.18) contacts with teachers per day. An infectious teacher would have 47.6 (95% CI = 45.1-50.0) contacts with students and 1.70 (95% CI = 1.48-1.92) contacts with their colleague teachers per day. While the probability of onward SARS-CoV-2 transmission was relatively low for the Alpha and Delta variants, the risk increased for the Omicron variant, especially in the absence of public health measures. Onward teacher-to-student transmission (88.9%, 95% CI = 88.6%-89.1%) and teacher-to-teacher SARS-CoV-2 transmission (98.4%, 95% CI = 98.5%-98.6%) were significantly higher for the Omicron variant without public health measures in place.

Conclusions: Our findings illustrate that, despite a lower frequency of close contacts, teacher-to-teacher close contacts demonstrated a higher risk of transmission per contact of SARS-CoV-2 compared to student-to-student close contacts. This was especially significant with the Omicron variant, with onward transmission more likely occurring from teacher index cases than student index cases. Public health measures (eg, face masks and physical distance) seem essential in reducing the risk of onward transmission within school environments.


JoGH is a fully open access journal, publishing under the CC BY 4.0 licence.

Cite as

Yan, L., Talic, S., Wild, H., Gasevic, D., Gasević, D., Ilic, D., Deppeler, J., Corrigan, D., Martinez-Maldonado, R. & Trauer, J. 2022, 'Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in a primary school setting with and without public health measures using real-world contact data: A modelling study', Journal of Global Health, 12, article no: 05034. https://doi.org/10.7189/jogh.12.05034

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Last updated: 11 October 2022
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