As the number of daily Covid-19 cases in Switzerland has exceeded 400 in the past few days — the highest since April —some epidemiologists are calling for a better assessment of the spread of this virus in schools.
According to Silvia Stringhini, head of the Population Epidemiology Unit at Geneva’s University Hospital (HUG), “we have to know how the virus circulates within schools”.
“Now that we have an increase in cases, especially in some cantons, it is important to encourage testing”, she said in an interview.
Isabella Eckerle, who heads the HUG’s laboratory of the infectious diseases, also advocates more testing among kids.
“Children should be tested as much as the rest of the population”, she told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday.
Because children are not routinely tested in Switzerland, outbreaks are happening in schools, which are detected much too late, Eckerle said.
Such outbreaks recently occurred in Aargau and Geneva, where schools had to be temporarily closed.
And as children’s symptoms are usually mild, it can take a long time for the virus to be transmitted in classrooms.
“The school administration may then feel obliged to close the whole school, which should absolutely be avoided”, Eckerle noted.
The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) is not advising tests for children, but these recommendations could change soon.
“Our attitude is that anyone who has symptoms compatible with Covid-19 should be tested, including children”, Virginie Masserey, the head of FOPH’s infection control and vaccination told RTS television.
She added, however, that the process of getting good-quality samples from kids under 12, “is sometimes difficult”.
“The smear in the nose is a tedious process,” Alessandro Diana, a specialist in infectious diseases at HUG said in June.
But he noted that even though “these tests are burdensome, they are worth the effort: if you are in doubt about this disease, you should rather do a test than not do it”.
Masserey also pointed out another reason for the more routine testing of children — to gather statistical information.
“In the absence of figures, we still don’t really know what proportion of children is affected by the disease. And that is a crucial question during a pandemic”.
To date, 437 children under the age of nine have been tested positive to Covid-19 in Switzerland, according to FOPH.