U.K. School Trial Shows Daily Covid Tests Could Ease ‘Pingdemic’
(Bloomberg) -- Daily Covid-19 testing is just as effective as self-isolation in controlling transmission in U.K. schools, according to a study.
Scientists at the University of Oxford found little difference in the number of symptomatic infections when those in contact with Covid cases had daily tests rather than self-isolating. The results could fuel calls for the U.K. government to rethink its containment strategy, which has seen more than 1.7 million people holing up as of this week in what’s been dubbed the “pingdemic.”
Though schools are mostly shutting for the summer now, policy makers should apply the findings to wider settings, said Tim Peto, professor of medicine at Oxford. Many workplaces have also been hit by absences after employees were “pinged” by a National Health Service mobile app that tells them they’ve been in contact with an infected person.
“Common sense tells you that the more transmission there is, the more testing you need to do,” Peto said. “This increases the opportunity for people to control transmission in a much more comfortable and effective way.”
The trial involved more than 200,000 students and 20,000 staff. Some self-isolated, while others attended education if they tested negative on each of the seven school days involved in the investigation. The aim was to compare the number of contacts in each group testing positive, and the follow-on effects on transmission in schools.
The study found that daily testing saw 4% fewer infections, and scientists believe this figure could have been as high as 14% if all staff and students participated. In the group that continued to self-isolate, 1.8% of school days were affected, compared with 1.5% in those that tested daily.
Using testing rather than quarantines for contacts reduces the stigma on those who test positive, the researchers said, because an infected student’s friends don’t have to stay home automatically. That leads to people being more transparent about their Covid-19 status, said Bernadette Young, clinical lecturer in infectious diseases at Oxford.
“We know that quarantine comes along with ill effects and potential harm for those forced to do so,” Young said. “The consequence of testing positive is that all your friends need to isolate. If you have less of a penalty, you are going to be more upfront.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.