Will the new COVID variant impact school reopening plans in the US?

Schools in the United Kingdom shut down nationwide this week and will be closed through at least mid-February. This as the new COVID variant has led to surging coronavirus cases in Britain. 

That variant has already been detected in at least five states, so will it affect school reopening plans here in the United States?

READ MORE: New UK lockdown issued until mid-February to combat fast-spreading COVID-19 strain

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researcher and epidemiologist Dr. Bill Hanage says so far, the B.1.1.7. COVID variant is proving more transmissible in both adults and children. 

"If it is not present in your community you should be getting ready for if and when it’s introduced into your community," says Hanage. 

To detect the new strain, scientists are collecting groups of positive COVID-19 tests and genetically sequencing them. In the United States that is happening far less than in England, so there’s concern it could already be more widespread than reported.  

According to Hanage, "We haven’t even looked in large parts of the country."

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He says in-person learning should be a priority even with the variant present. Schools, however, must maintain strong mitigation efforts including mandatory masks, ventilation, hand washing and as much outdoor time as possible. It’s also crucial for the surrounding community to step up as well, to keep infection rates down.  

Unfortunately, some transmission is inevitable but Dr. Hanage says it should be less than the spread in the rest of the community for a school to remain open.