New report confirms schools can reopen safely for in-person learning if using layered protection measures 

Prevent Epidemics July 20, 2021


New report confirms schools can reopen safely for in-person learning if using layered protection measures 

Vaccination, mask-wearing, and increased ventilation essential to opening schools safely

July 20, 2021 (New York, NY)—As schools around the world reopen for in-person learning, administrators and public health officials must make evidence-based decisions to keep students and staff safe. In a new In-Depth Science Review, the team at Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, evaluates the data on children’s COVID-19 risk when going back to school, how schools can resume in-person learning safely and what risk in-person learning poses to the community. The data show that even amid the emergence of increasingly transmissible variants of the COVID-19 virus and the unvaccinated status of most children, schools can reopen safely if they implement a series of layered protection, a series of different protections implemented in tandem, such as vaccination, mask-wearing, ventilation, and physical distancing.

Virtual schooling has caused mental, educational and economic disruptions in the past year for students and parents. Although better than nothing, data show that online learning can undermine academic progress and exacerbate educational inequalities—particularly among students from low-income families. It was estimated that by March 2021, more than 168 million children globally had not received any in-person learning for nearly a year. School closures also interfere with a parent’s ability to work, thereby causing economic harm, and interrupt children’s access to food and shelter.

Abundant data show that virtual schooling may not be necessary to control COVID-19 spread:

  • The Prevent Epidemics team found that COVID-19 case rates are consistently lowest among children aged 0-10 years old, and that few children get severely ill.
  • Children also spread COVID-19 less than adults, and schools have not been major drivers of community transmission—especially when protection measures are in place. Studies of schools in Australia and Europe found that the few outbreaks that were associated with schools typically involved 10 cases or fewer.

“Schools must reopen and stay open to avoid the cascade of societal burdens caused by remote schooling, as well as further educational, economic, and social damage  that closures cause,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. “Keeping schools open is possible, but it is crucial that they implement a series of layered protections.”

Layered mitigation measures reduce transmission in schools; however, when such measures are not in place, or when community transmission is high, increased COVID-19 spread may occur. Recent guidance from the CDC outlines key measures that include consistent and correct mask use, physical distancing and increased ventilation in classrooms and other indoor areas.

These measures are in addition to the continued promotion of vaccines among eligible populations—the most potent tool to reduce community spread. Higher vaccination rates mean lower hospitalization and death rates and less long Covid. Increasing global vaccine access is an epidemiological and ethical priority.

Layered measures are doubly important to protect the vulnerable. Although children rarely get severely ill from COVID-19, some do, and we are still learning about the long-term effects of COVID-19, an issue the Prevent Epidemics team studied in its previous In-Depth Science Review. In addition, a range of factors affecting health outcomes including lack of access to adequate care and the effects of poverty and systemic racism on health have all contributed to the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Black, Latinx, Native American people in the United States and lower-income people everywhere. A recent survey found that two thirds of teenagers hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States were Hispanic or non-Hispanic Black persons.

“The benefits of reopening schools far outweigh the costs. Keeping schools open isn’t just about our kids—it is a vital part of our return to economic and social progress,” Dr. Frieden said. “Vaccination is our path forward to ending this pandemic, and we owe it to our children, families, and communities to ensure layered protections of schools .”

Click here to access the full In-Depth Science Review.




About In-Depth Science Review

Our In-Depth Science Review is a snapshot of the new and emerging scientific evidence related to COVID-19. Recent topics include the long-term effects of COVID-19 (“long Covid”), COVID-19 in Africa and genomic surveillance.


About Resolve to Save Lives

Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of the global health organization Vital Strategies, focuses on preventing deaths from cardiovascular disease and preventing epidemics. It is led by Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To find out more, visit: or Twitter @ResolveTSL.


About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.


Stay in the know:  Follow #KnowCOVID or subscribe to Vital Strategies’ Twitter, Facebook or Instagram accounts.


Media Contacts: 

Steven Chlapecka, Resolve to Save Lives,,  +1.917.623.0246

Christina Honeysett, Vital Strategies:; +1.914.424.3356