Typically, schools are places where both children and parents from a community gather, which potentially leads to spreading of the virus. When epidemics emerge, one of measure to be taken is the closure of schools. In case of influenza-like illnesses it has been proven that this is an effective measure, since children are highly susceptible for that disease. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is different, as it seems to be less contagious for children. Some countries, , like the Netherlands, were reluctant with imposing this measure. Their main concern was about health care workers needed at home, while grandparents, as being part of the risk group for the virus, could not take care of the children.
At this moment, Sweden, as one of the few European countries, has kept primary and junior school (0-16 years old) open, based on the premise that closing schools would mean many parents with jobs that are vital to society, like healthcare personnel, would have to stay home and take care of their children instead of going to work and that would delay efforts to stem the spread of the virus. However, some parents and teachers are worried, and all neighboring countries have opted to close the schools
In this scenario, we explore potential consequences of keep schools open on the spread of the virus and social and economic aspects. We model the direct and indirect effect on the spread of the virus when schools are closed and people work from home.
The timing of closure of schools influences the effect on spreading. A school can be closed once a student or teacher is found to be infected, or closure can be imposed in a more proactive manner, i.e. before an infection in school is detected. For now, we consider the latter and schools will be closed as soon as a certain amount of infected people within the city has been reached. Different thresholds will be tested.
Furthermore, the scenario assumes that when children are staying at home, at least one adult should be at home to take care of them. This caregiver is assumed to work from home for the duration of the school closure. We will in particular look at the effect on the spreading of the coronavirus when schools are closed and thus parents working at home compared to parents already working at home with children still going to school.
Dependent variable: Spreading of the virus
The simulations are run with 300 agents and distributed according to the Scandinavian household model (#young 42, #students 80, #workers 114, #retired 64). The different scenarios are simulated with the following settings:
- A baseline simulation: working-at-home off, closed-schools off, closed-universities off.
- Closing schools and universities: working-at-home off, closed-schools on (#days-trigger-school-closing-measure 0), closed-universities on.
- (If possible) working from home: working-at-home on (#days-trigger-non-essential-business-closing-measure 0), closed-schools off, closed-universities off
- Closing schools and universities and (if possible) working from home: working-at-home on (#days-trigger-non-essential-business-closing-measure 0), closed-schools on (#days-trigger-school-closing-measure 0), closed-universities on.
Baseline scenario: Figure 1a shows the number of infected people (red line) peaking between tick 40 and 60 with around 200 people being infected. After 237 ticks there are no infected people anymore and 78 people have died. Figure 1b shows the number of people doing a certain activity. The number of agents at home (green line) is highest everyday at night. The total number is declining, because some people are staying at the hospital when they are severely ill. The black line shows the number of people at non-essential shops. The last two peaks are on Saturday and Sunday, with around 120 people shopping.
In figure 2 and figure 3 the results of closing the schools and universities, and working at home resp. are shown. When only the schools are closed, some people are forced to work at home too, as they have to take care of their children.
Although the number of people at home is much higher (the green line in the right plots) compared to the baseline simulation, which implies less spreading of the virus, the peak of infected people is higher (around 210 and 215 resp.). The peak is reached around the same time, i.e. 40 ticks. The number of people that died is 80 and 78 resp.
We also see a difference in people going to non-essential shops. The difference can be obtained by looking at the black line, the number of people at non-essential shops, on the right where the last two peaks (Saturday and Sunday) are higher than at the baseline simulation, i.e. around 150, with in figure 3 also a higher amount of people in the afternoon, around 100.
The above findings show that the measurements do not lower the peak as expected, but even increase that peak. This can be explained by the fact that more people want to leave the house during the weekend, as they have worked at home during the week with less social interaction. At these public places typically people of different communities are gathered. This in comparison to work or school, where more or less the same group of people are present. This only increases the spreading of the virus.
Without further measurements, like social distancing and closing restaurants, the effect of working at home or closing schools is surpassed by the side effect, namely people wanting to go out.
Extensions of the scenario
Although the simulations show little effect of the taken measurements, in combination with other measurements it might actually lead to spreading of the virus. Options to consider are:
- Advice of staying at home when showing symptoms
- Impose social distancing.
- Close public places