Assessing the impact of SARS-CoV-2 prevention measures in Austrian schools using agent-based simulations and cluster tracing data


How to safely maintain open schools during a pandemic is still controversial. We aim to identify those measures that effectively control the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Austrian schools. By control we mean that each source case infects less than one other person on average. We use Austrian data on 616 clusters involving 2,822 student-cases and 676 teacher-cases to calibrate an agent-based epidemiological model in terms of cluster size and transmission risk depending on age and clinical presentation. Considering a situation in which the B1.617.2 (delta) virus strain is dominant and parts of the population are vaccinated, we quantify the impact of non-pharmaceutical intervention measures (NPIs) such as room ventilation, reduction of class size, wearing of masks during lessons, vaccinations, and school entry testing by SARS-CoV2-antigen tests.

In the tracing data we find that 40% of all clusters involved no more than two cases, and 3% of the clusters only had more than 20 cases. The younger the students, the more likely we found asymptomatic cases and teachers as the source case of the in-school transmissions. Based on this data, the model shows that different school types require different combinations of NPIs to achieve control of the infection spreading: If 80% of teachers and 50% of students are vaccinated, in primary schools, it is necessary to combine at least two of the above NPIs. In secondary schools, where contact networks of students and teachers become increasingly large and dense, a combination of at least three NPIs is needed.

A sensitivity analysis indicated that poorly executed mitigation measures might increase the cluster size by a factor of more than 17 for primary schools and even higher increases are to be expected for the other school types. Our results suggest that school-type-specific combinations of NPIs together with vaccinations are necessary to allow for a controlled opening of schools under sustained community transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant. However, large clusters might still occur on an infrequent, however, regular basis.


Jana Lasser, Johannes Sorger, Lukas Richter, Stefan Thurner, Peter Klimek, Assessing the impact of SARS-CoV-2 prevention measures in Austrian schools using agent-based simulations and cluster tracing data, Nature Communications 13 (554) (2022)

This publication was supported by the following project(s):

  • FFG, Project No. FFG 882184
  • City of Vienna | Bürgermeisterfonds, Project No. CoVid004