According to the Daily Mail, the team tracked the spread of the coronavirus through the school, and while they spotted dozens of cases, they concluded that the transmission was not linked to bus transportation. They also said that the findings show that school buses can safely operate at normal capacity even at high community COVID-19 caseloads.
For the study, the team asked students who took the bus to wear face masks and keep their windows open for better ventilation. In Virginia, where the study was held, children aged 11 and up were no longer required to socially distance themselves from others on the bus or other public transport to school. The students were subjected to PCR tests every two weeks; this was done weekly during high transmission periods in the state.
The students were also packed onto 15 buses with two students per bench or social distancing at only 2.5 ft. Ten of the buses were completely full with open windows to allow ventilation.
There were only 39 COVID-19 cases recorded in the school, including two members of the staff who boarded the bus over the seven-month period, resulting in 52 students being forced to quarantine. However, testing and contract tracing showed there were no links to the transmissions on the buses.
The researchers also said that even during the peak of the virus in Virginia where cases reached 525.7 for every 100,000, not one case was transmitted via students boarding the school bus. This shows that schools can operate buses safely at full capacity without the need for extra space between students.
Dr. Dana Ramirez, an expert in emergency medicine at the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters, Virginia, said that the pandemic has made it difficult for public schools to meet the transportation needs of the students.
"Many districts simply do not have enough buses and drivers to allow distancing of 3ft to 6ft or skipping of bus rows while still providing rides to all children."
The study builds on previous research, which said adhering to social distancing and mask-wearing in public transport could slow the chance of the virus spreading. Conversely, the likelihood of catching the virus is higher when working in an office, eating at a restaurant, or drinking in a bar, as people stay longer in these locations and talk to people. These activities increase the amount of aerosols they dispel, as well as their risk of being infected with COVID-19. (Related: Child care and COVID-19: Study reveals child care centers don't drive COVID-19 infections.)
These are the same guidelines for children traveling to school in England. A study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine noted that almost nine in ten secondary schools reported having no COVID-19 cases after they reopened.
Data also showed that only nine of 80 schools surveyed had one infected pupil or staff member for two weeks ending March 31, and four schools saw at least two cases.
Almost 10,000 secondary school teachers and pupils were swabbed for the study, which researchers carried out regularly to track the spread of the virus in English schools. Of the students, only 0.34 percent tested positive, compared to 1.2 percent in December when COVID was spreading.
"Results of this study shows current Covid infection among secondary school staff and pupils has fallen significantly," said Dr. Shamez Ladhani, an epidemiologist for Public Health England and chief investigator of the study.
"These findings are reassuring and contribute to wider evidence that shows the risk of transmission in schools is low."
Learn more about the COVID-19 transmission risk at Pandemic.news.