Most countries world-wide implemented localized or national school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with estimates of >65% of enrolled children globally affected by school closures.1 Since the early pandemic, schools in many settings around the world have fully or partially re-opened for in-person instruction, while in other settings schools have re-opened exclusively using online learning.

This document is a brief summary of the models and implementation approaches to re-opening schools, evidence related to the infection and transmission risk among school-age children, and the role of schools in driving transmission in the community. This is not a comprehensive review of the models used in all countries that have re-opened schools. Our systematic search of the published and pre-print literature yielded some articles that address this topic directly, but this summary also relies heavily on news articles and “grey literature” sources. It includes news articles, manuscripts published in peer-reviewed journals or on pre-print servers, and other resources identified through October 19, 2020. References that appeared in the daily COVID-19 Literature Report (Lit Rep) are marked with an asterisk*, and the summary is shown in the annotated bibliography below.

Executive Summary of Models of School Re-Opening Globally

  • Many countries globally began re-opening schools for in-person instruction starting in April and May 2020 following closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In most settings where schools were re-opened, levels of community transmission were low at the time of re-opening. While subsequent outbreaks occurred in some schools, there was little evidence that schools were main drivers of transmission.
  • In many settings, the initial phase of school re-opening was conducted with significant modifications to the normal school model, including providing in-person instruction for only certain grades (usually younger), reduced class sizes, and alternating or staggered schedules.
  • Beginning in August and September, many countries shifted to class sizes and schedules that were similar to pre-pandemic models, although many instituted measures to reduce the risk of transmission, including establishing cohorts of students that don’t mix, use of face masks, staggered start times to reduce the volume of students in hallways, and full or partial closure of schools in response to a case in the school.
  • A small number of well documented outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 in schools and overnight camps have demonstrated the potential for widespread transmission among school-age children, but successful examples of the application of coordinated control measures in schools and other large gatherings of children without widespread transmission indicates that it may be possible to reduce the risk of school-based transmission, particularly when rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection are relatively low in the community.
  • In the United States (US), there is considerable variability between states and districts in approaches to in-person instruction. As of October 2020, in some states, nearly all students are participating exclusively in online or remote education. In other states, students have returned to in-person learning, with models ranging from fully in-person learning with normal class sizes to hybrid models with a mix of in-person and online or remote learning.
  • Data regarding the number of cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 disease linked to schools in the US is not collected and reported systematically, with variability from state-to-state in terms of requirements to report cases associated with schools. A number of dashboards are collecting available data about cases linked to schools.

View the full report, which contains :

  • Considerations for Closing and Re-opening Schools
  • Summary of School Re-opening by Country
  • Summary of Approaches to Re-Opening Schools and Subsequent Transmission
  • Evidence Regarding the Susceptibility of School-age Children to SARS-CoV-2 Infection and their Potential from Transmission
  • Evidence Regarding the Effectiveness of Control Measures
  • Country-Specific Experience with School Re-Opening
  • Summary of School Re-opening Plans and Guidance by State
  • Dashboard for Tracking School Re-opening and Cases Linked to Schools
  • Recommended Resources
  • Annotated Bibliography


See related media:

New study shows how students around the world are returning back to school amid COVID-19, Good Morning America, Oct. 20

Early data suggests some schools can safely reopen, Washington state health officials say, Seattle Times, Oct. 29

Washington schools are reversing course on reopening plans as coronavirus surges, Seattle Times, Nov. 2