UMMC/CDC Study: Social gatherings, not school leads to COVID transmission

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Photo Courtesy of the University of Mississippi Medical Center

A recent study conducted by the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that children are “more at risk from contracting COVID-19 at a holiday party or family gathering than they are from being in the classroom or in childcare.”

Professor of pediatric infectious diseases at UMMC and lead author on the study’s findings Dr. Charlotte Hobbs explained that the structured settings, like schools and daycares, didn’t increase the risk of transmission. 

“Our main findings were that in-person childcare or school attendance in the two weeks preceding the test for COVID-19 was not associated with being infected,” Dr. Hobbs said. “Also, children who were infected were more likely to have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 and that contact was most commonly a family member, so household contacts versus a contact at school appeared to be more important in a child’s risk for being infected.”

The study showed that, compared with children who tested negative, children who tested positive were also more likely to have attended gatherings and have visitors at home. Dr. Hobbs also explained that parents or guardians of children who were infected were less likely to report wearing masks at these gatherings. The results of the study, according to Dr. Hobbs, underscore the importance of following state and CDC guidelines in terms of making and social distancing. 

“Continued strict implementation of measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission in schools is vital, along with continued adherence to local Department of Health and CDC guidelines on an individual and family level,” she said. “For example, even though parents and guardians reported good adherence to MSDH/CDC recommendations for reducing risks at schools, mask use at schools was lower among infected children than the uninfected children, suggesting that consistent mask use at schools is still very important.”

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, who contributed to the research study, weighing in by stating that it “highlights the known risks of COVID-19 exposure associated with social gatherings where individuals are letting their guard down; a situation we have seen played out time and time again.”

“The report also emphasizes the importance of consistent mask use in all settings from structured environments such as classroom settings, to those higher-risk out-of-school social activities when folks have a tendency to be less vigilant,” Dr. Byers added. 

Both Hobbs and Byers continued to encourage everyone to limit their Christmas gatherings to the nuclear family. Current MSDH guidance advises Mississippians to avoid all non-essential gatherings such as parties, weddings, funerals, and in-person church services.  

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