Nominated Principal Applicant

Julia Orkin, Hospital for Sick Children

Principal Applicants

Aaron Campigotto, Hospital for Sick Children
Michelle Science, Hospital for Sick Children


Ari Bitnun, Hospital for Sick Children
Cindy Bruce-Barrettee, Hospital for Sick Children
Sarah Buchan, Public Health Ontario
Allison Chris, Toronto Public Health
Vinta Dubey, University of Toronto
Sloane Freeman, St. Michael’s Hospital
Peter Juni, St. Michael’s Hospital
Liane Macdonald, Public Health Ontario
Rulan Rarekh, Hospital for Sick Children

Lay Summary

Over the course of the pandemic, the importance of in-person schooling for the overall health and wellbeing of children and youth has been increasingly recognized. To have schools open – and stay open – for in-person learning, enhanced health and safety measures have been instated, in addition to robust case and contact management strategies. However, transmission in schools may be underestimated as children are often asymptomatic and may not seek testing due to various barriers, including the fact that many children and youth do not want to take a nasal swab test. This means we do not yet know how much transmission there has been in schools so far.

Our study, titled Secondary transmission of COVID-19 in elementary and secondary schools: assessing the frequency, risk factors and impact of variants of concern, will assess the frequency of SARS-CoV-2 transmission between students and staff in Ontario schools. We will start with those with a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection case and will test, as per local public health guidance, all their exposed contacts within school using PCR testing (for an active infection). The exposed contacts will be given a take-home saliva test, ensuring easy access to a non-invasive collection method.

By obtaining samples from all those exposed and by routinely using genetic sequencing of the positive cases, we will be able to detect cases of variants and be able to examine risk factors for transmission including the impact of variants of concern (VOCs). This data on transmission is needed to:

  • Understand the extent to which school exposures are leading to infections;
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the health and safety measures in schools; and
  • Identify risk factors that may be contributing to transmission within schools.

These results will contribute essential data to help:

  1. Prevent spread in schools through refinement of health and safety measures;
  2. Develop protocols around contact management; and
  3. Inform policy decisions around future school closures.


CoVaRR-Net is funding this research, which was first proposed to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Emerging COVID-19 Research Gaps and Priorities – Variants funding call, with a $136,500 cash contribution.