A new voluntary COVID-19 study to assess and monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 among pre-school, primary and secondary school pupils and teachers has been launched by the government.
Public Health England’s (PHE) study will add to data on antibody and virus prevalence already being collected through national surveillance programmes and other nationwide studies, which report weekly.
The initial phase will collect data from up to 100 schools from across England, including 15 schools in London, with results available over the summer. We are targeting around 200 staff and children at each school. Data will be fed back to inform a potential second phase study in September.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "A critical pillar of our COVID-19 testing strategy is surveillance – testing samples of the population to gain a deeper understanding of the spread of COVID-19, especially in those who may not have symptoms.
"This study will help us better understand how common asymptomatic and mild cases of COVID-19 are so that we can support parents, pupils and teachers and support staff, and inform our ongoing response to this new virus."
Generally, children have been shown to be asymptomatic. This surveillance study will seek to better understand rates of transmission in children and adults within schools over the coming months by swab testing to see if they have the virus.
A small proportion of schools will also be offered antibody tests by phlebotomists, medical professionals who are fully trained to collect blood samples from patients. Roughly 40% of schools selected for the study will receive antibody and swab tests before the summer holidays.
Participation from schools is on a voluntary basis, and all parents and guardians will be asked to provide informed consent for their children or dependents prior to testing.