A Survey of the Occurrence and Transmission of COVID-19 in Outdoor Education Settings in Canada
Szabo S1, Walker S1, Edgar T2, Kretnzel J3, Johnston K4, Stone B5
1Broadstreet Health Economics & Outcomes Research, Vancouver, BC, Canada, 2Fresh Air Learning, North Vancouver, BC, Canada, 3Hand-In-Hand Nature Education, Comox Valley and Campbell River, BC, Canada, 4Memorial University, Vancouver, BC, Canada, 5Muddy Boot Prints, Vancouver, BC, Canada
OBJECTIVES: While the importance of schools for COVID-19 transmission has been discussed, research has largely focused on traditional indoor settings. Our objective was to assess the frequency of COVID-19 cases and transmission in outdoor education environments in Canada.
METHODS: A cross-sectional online survey of program directors, recruited by email and social media, assessed the frequency of COVID-19 cases and putative transmission in outdoor education programs in BC and Alberta. The survey, designed by three program directors and three epidemiologists, queried details of COVID-19 occurrence during the pre-omicron (pre-December 2021) and omicron (January-April 2022) periods. Program characteristics, the number of COVID-19 cases, and likely within-program transmissions (defined most frequently as a new case occurring within 5-10 days of close contact with an established student case) were tabulated. Ethical approval was obtained, and all participants provided e-consent.
RESULTS: Seventeen program directors participated. The majority (53%) of programs included >100 students and most programs targeted both preschool and school-aged children; the mean number of students per class was 14.2, and educators, 2.4. Most programs (82%) had children attending 1-4 half days per week, and 29% had occasional or regular indoor programming. In the pre-omicron period, 5 programs (29%) reported COVID-19 cases (range, 0 to 5/program); but no transmissions. In the omicron period, 12 programs (71%) reported COVID-19 cases (range, 0 to 9 cases/program); and 2 programs reported 3 likely cases of COVID-19 transmission.
CONCLUSIONS: Among children attending outdoor education programs, COVID-19 infection and transmission was rare in the pre-omicron period and slightly more frequent in the omicron period; many programs reported neither COVID-19 cases nor transmissions. Limitations include that data were reported by program directors and some cases may have been missed. Nevertheless, this provides evidence of the safety of outdoor school educational programs in Canada and a benchmark for comparison for future waves of COVID-19.
Conference/Value in Health Info
Value in Health, Volume 25, Issue 12S (December 2022)
Epidemiology & Public Health
SDC: Infectious Disease (non-vaccine), SDC: Respiratory-Related Disorders (Allergy, Asthma, Smoking, Other Respiratory)