Study looks at reducing risk of COVID spread on school buses

Experts say layered approach is vital

Many children will be getting back on a bus to go to school this fall and some parents are concerned about so many children being packed in so close together.

DETROIT – Many children will be getting back on a bus to go to school this fall and some parents are concerned about so many children being packed in so close together.

Researchers at Eastern Virginia Medical School and Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters wanted to found out how easily COVID-19 could spread on school buses running at near capacity. Dr. Dana Ramirez is the lead author. Ramirez is a research and associate professor of pediatrics.

Read: What are your concerns for the new school year as children head back to classrooms amid COVID pandemic?

“There was a school in Virginia, an independent school named Norfolk Academy, that was transporting children on near full school buses for five days a week of in-person learning and so we approached them to see if we could study how they had set this up,” Ramirez said.

The study ran from Sept. 2020 to March 2021. It involved 15 buses, 462 students with 2 students per seat at 2.5 feet apart. There were assigned seats and siblings were together. Masks were mandatory for everyone on the bus.

“They were requiring the middle two windows be cracked an inch as well as the back windows cracked an inch,” Ramirez said. “They had bus routes that ran from 36 minutes to longer than that so long enough that we would consider somebody exposed if they were close to a person on a bus.”

Read: Back to school: Teachers share expectations for COVID school year ahead

The school was conducting saliva PCR testing on all of the students. At first it was every two weeks, then it was every week. That way they were able to detect infected children who had symptoms and who were asymptomatic.

During the study period, 37 students, one driver and one staffer tested positive for COVID. There were 52 close contacts who were quarantined. Contact tracing revealed there was no spread linked to riding on the bus.

“Out of those 52 who had been quarantined. Not a single one of them had a positive COVID-19 test,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez said their study demonstrates using multiple layers of protection can help buses operate safely.

The study was done before the more contagious delta variant was spreading. Researchers said there’s no reason to think the same layered safety precautions wouldn’t still be effective now.

Read: Continuous Michigan COVID coverage


About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.