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Original article

Vol. 152 No. 2122 (2022)

SARS-CoV-2 aerosol transmission in schools: the effectiveness of different interventions

  • Jennifer Villers
  • Andre Henriques
  • Serafina Calarco
  • Markus Rognlien
  • Nicolas Mounet
  • James Devine
  • Gabriella Azzopardi
  • Philip Elson
  • Marco Andreini
  • Nicola Tarocco
  • Claudia Vassella
  • Olivia Keiser
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2022;152:w30178


BACKGROUND: Indoor aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2 has been widely recognised, especially in schools where children remain in closed indoor spaces and largely unvaccinated. Measures such as strategic natural ventilation and high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration remain poorly implemented and mask mandates are often progressively lifted as vaccination rollout is enhanced.

METHODS: We adapted a previously developed aerosol transmission model to study the effect of interventions (natural ventilation, face masks, HEPA filtration and their combinations) on the concentration of virus particles in a classroom of 160 m3 containing one infectious individual. The cumulative dose of viruses absorbed by exposed occupants was calculated.

RESULTS: In the absence of interventions, the cumulative dose absorbed was 1.5 times higher in winter than in spring/summer, increasing chances of indoor airborne transmission in winter. However, natural ventilation was more effective in winter, leading to up to a 20-fold decrease in cumulative dose when six windows were fully open at all times. In winter, partly opening two windows all day or fully opening six windows at the end of each class was effective as well (2.7- to 3-fold decrease). In summer, good ventilation levels could be achieved through the opening of windows all day long (2- to 7-fold decrease depending on the number of windows open). Opening windows only during yard and lunch breaks had minimal effect (≤1.5-fold decrease). One HEPA filter was as effective as two windows partly open all day in winter (3-fold decrease) whereas two filters were more effective (5-fold decrease). Surgical face masks were very effective independently of the season (8-fold decrease). Combined interventions (i.e., natural ventilation, masks, and HEPA filtration) were the most effective (≥25-fold decrease) and remained highly effective in the presence of a super-spreader.

INTERPRETATION: Natural ventilation, face masks, and HEPA filtration are effective interventions to reduce SARS-CoV-2 aerosol transmission. These measures should be combined and complemented by additional interventions (e.g., physical distancing, hygiene, testing, contact tracing and vaccination) to maximise benefit.


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