BACKGROUND:

The 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic led many jurisdictions to close in-person school instruction.

METHODS:

We collected data about COVID-19 cases associated with New York City (NYC) public schools from polymerase chain reaction testing performed in each school on a sample of asymptomatic students and staff and from routine reporting. We compared prevalence from testing done in schools to community prevalence estimates from statistical models. We compared cumulative incidence for school-associated cases to all cases reported to the city. School-based contacts were monitored to estimate the secondary attack rate and possible direction of transmission.

RESULTS:

To assess prevalence, we analyzed data from 234 132 persons tested for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection in 1594 NYC public schools during October 9 to December 18, 2020; 986 (0.4%) tested positive. COVID-19 prevalence in schools was similar to or less than estimates of prevalence in the community for all weeks. To assess cumulative incidence, we analyzed data for 2231 COVID-19 cases that occurred in students and staff compared with the 86 576 persons in NYC diagnosed with COVID-19 during the same period; the overall incidence was lower for persons in public schools compared with the general community. Of 36 423 school-based close contacts, 191 (0.5%) subsequently tested positive for COVID-19; the likely index case was an adult for 78.0% of secondary cases.

CONCLUSIONS:

We found that in-person learning in NYC public schools was not associated with increased prevalence or incidence overall of COVID-19 infection compared with the general community.

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